Columbine-Overlooked Cottage Garden Gem

The sheer variety of shapes and colors of Columbine flowers has always amazed me. Coming in one color or contrasting colors, there are miniature ones just a few inches high, and towering ones up to 3 feet high or more. Dangling, nodding, upright; The blossoms run the gamut of presentations. One thing they all have in common though, is possessing spurs that project toward the rear of the flowers resembling claws. Aquilegia is the Latin name for Columbines and means ‘eagle’ and the spurs do resemble eagle claws. The spurs can extend up to 4 inches in length in some species.


Easy to grow, Columbines bloom from mid-spring through early summer. The bell-shaped flowers are a favorite for hummingbirds and are excellent in cut-flower arrangements as well. Thriving here at my home in moist woodland conditions, it is a perennial that lasts a few seasons only and might seed in unexpected but welcome places elsewhere in the garden. Hybridizing with other columbines, the seedlings could be totally different in appearance when they appear again. But I love waiting for the surprise.

Winky Double Red and White Columbine
Winky Double Blue

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), which happens to be my favorite, thrives in hot dry conditions in the Southwest and though I can’t grow it here in Maryland on the east coast, I enjoy it when I travel out west.

Columbine – Aquilegia chrysantha
Aquilegia chrysantha against a Colorado sky

I find that local nurseries only carry the most common ones and you must grow unusual ones from seed. Easily started from seed inside or just sown into the ground outside, the plants also readily self sow. I see many varieties on my travels, especially in England, and gardeners are starting really unusual ones from seed. Dark colors seem to be a favorite.

A dark ruby Columbine seen at Kiftsgate
The background orange flowers make this Columbine pop

Found in the wild as a North American native, Columbine forms large patches in open woodlands in USDA Zones 3 to 8. The stunning blue and white Rocky Mountain Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea, is Colorado’s state flower.

Columbine Rocky Mountain Blue
Native Eastern Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis is a charming little plant

When I use them in landscaping, I combine Columbines with other ‘high shade’ plants. Planted among ferns, pulmonarias, hostas, hellebores, and other moist woodland plants, it provides a pop of color for several weeks.

‘Corbett’ Columbine is a shorter version of the species with lemon colored dangling flowers

‘Corbett’ Columbine has an interesting history which started in my backyard, here in Maryland. The discoverer of this plants says:

“This plant was not patented because it is a wildflower that my brother and I discovered when we were in our teens (I am 60 now). I collected the seed from the wild plant and propagated it for several years noticing that it came true from seed. I gave the seed to many of my neighbors, including Richard Simon (of Simon Nursery) who introduced it to the world. When I was given the opportunity to name the plant I called it “Corbett” after the town in Maryland where I discovered it. The plant grows well in the mid atlantic region and seeds itself.”




7 Replies to “Columbine-Overlooked Cottage Garden Gem”

  1. The native red and yellow columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) grows naturally in our garden and takes very easily to being divided and transplanted. My favourite Aquilegia is A. chrysantha — so naturally it is the one that doesn’t like it at Glen Villa, my garden in rural Quebec.

    Referring to your previous post, I also have Clethra. It is a wonderfully fragrant plant and the deer don’t like it. High praise, in my books.

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