Early to mid-April is a perfect time to start to enjoy your springtime flowers. Way before Dahlias, summertime annuals, and asters, the breath of selection of spring blooming perennials is dazzling but there are definitely favorites that I enjoy year after year.
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 Maryland 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.
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.
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 where gardeners are starting really unusual ones from seed. Dark colors seem to be a favorite.
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.
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. Supposed to be deer resistant, I haven’t seen any evidence of deer munching at properties that I visit.
Veronica is another gem that you don’t hear a lot about. ‘Georgia Blue’ is the stalwart in my garden and when it blooms – it blooms!! Lasting for weeks, the tiny flowers form a haze of blue on the foliage and really stands out. Rabbit and deer resistant, this true blue ground cover covers a slope very handily and you can grow it easily in USDA zones 5-8. Thriving in full sun or partial shade, I treasure this perennial for its long last flowers, and if you sheer it back after flowering, it will reward you with a second flush of bloom.
Another blue favorite is the native Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. Actually an ephemeral which simply means it disappears once it blooms, and comes back the following year. That is an attribute that I love because I can plant annuals in their place for summer color. Though it disappears, it will come back like clockwork the following April and light up the landscape with its beautiful hanging blue bells.
Bluebells can be planted in and amongst a thick groundcover, like pachysandra, and still come up through it. And I have it planted where deer can get to it and they ignore it.
This plant has gotten a bad rap as it has been associated with filling station type landscaping. But forget that! You should be planting this because of the following attributes:
- It is deer resistant! I have never seen deer browse on this.
- It is evergreen . I can count on my fingers how many evergreen perennials there are and this is one of them.
- It is easy to grow and lasts for years.
- It is beautiful with an array of flower colors for weeks in April and May.
- It is perfect for growing on a wall.