Columbine (Aquilegia) are some of our best wildflowers for shade and partial shade areas of the garden. They enjoy a compost enriched soil with moderate moisture. Columbine are also highly attractive to hummingbirds and provide a copious supply of nature’s nectar from late spring into the summer months.
These perennials are most useful under trees in dappled shade or planted along the north or northeast side of buildings and walls. Individual Columbine plants are not long lived (3 or 4 years), but create long lived colonies of plants by reseeding themselves with ease. I make it a point to plant only non-hybrid types to ensure that my plants come true from seed and the flowers stay brightly colored like the parent plants. Many Columbines available from “Big Box” stores are hybrids. When these hybrids reseed themselves over several generations, regardless of their original flower color, the flowers of their seedlings will turn a dingy shade of yellow.
So I recommend planting your beds with only one variety of non-hybrid plants (like the varieties sold by High Country Gardens) and be sure there is some distance between plantings of different Columbine varieties to prevent them from crossing with each other.
New to our selection of Aquilegia for 2013 includes a very pretty cultivar, ‘Pink Lanterns’ (above right) discovered growing at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Kansas. A color sport of ‘Little Lanterns’ the flowers are a pleasant shade of soft pink.
Aquilegia sp. ‘Swallowtail’ is a spectacular variety that I originally grew from seed collected in south-central Arizona. The huge bi-colored yellow and light yellow flowers have graceful 3 ½ to 4 inch long spurs sweeping back from the face of the flowers. ‘Swallowtail’s foliage is blue or blue-green which adds to the plants overall beauty.
Aquilegia desertorum returns to the catalog after a several year absence; I had run out of seed and had to collect more from a new planting of stock plants over the past two years. Desert Columbine is long blooming and covers itself with petite orange and yellow flowers for many months in spring and summer. Native to central Arizona, it is best grown with some morning sun and shade from the sun’s hot afternoon rays.
Aquilegia chrysantha v. chapellinii ‘Little Treasure’ is another favorite of mine. It is a short growing variety that I bred many years ago from wild collected seed gathered in south-central New Mexico. ‘Little Treasure’ flowers at about 15 to 16 inches in height with compact, bright yellow flowers facing up to the sky like a nest of baby birds waiting for their mother. The foliage is fine textured and looks just like that of a Maiden Hair Fern. This is a very nice, very distinctive native variety that blooms for several months beginning in late spring.