Columbines have truly unique-looking flowers. With their dangling bell-like shape and spurs at the back, there is nothing else quite them. Because columbines bloom in almost every color, these easy-to-grow perennials are popular garden plants. They also seed themselves around the garden, saving you the hassle of resowing seeds each year!
These happy plants begin blooming near the end of bulb season, adding a pop of color right when your garden needs it. Their delicate blue-green foliage also makes a beautiful statement in the garden. And because they grow in many different environments, including moist woodlands and rocky alpines, there's a columbine species for you.
Columbine Care Must-Knows
Columbines are easy-to-grow perennials that need little care. Depending on the species, ideal conditions can vary. Columbine has several alpine species that do best in cool weather and full sun and in well-drained soils. The more common types are usually native to woodlands, and they prefer evenly-moist soils. No columbines like to stay wet for a long period of time; it's a sure way to rot your plants.
It's important to remember that columbines are cool-season perennials and not very fond of hot and humid summers, especially the alpine varieties. If you're growing columbine in a garden setting with hot and humid summers, give them afternoon shade. Some species go dormant in the summer and will grow foliage back in the fall.
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Columbines are fairly short-lived perennials that reseed heavily in the garden. Because they may be crossing with other varieties of columbines, most seedlings generally don't look much like the immediate parents. Oftentimes, they revert back to simpler types and common colors. If you want to preserve a specific variety, it's best to weed out any unwanted seedlings and to keep the main plant as happy as you can.
More Varieties of Columbine
'Blue Barlow' columbine
Aquilegia vulgaris 'Blue Barlow' has interesting, shaggy-looking double flowers that dangle over finely divided foliage. Zones 3-8
Aquilegia canadensis bears red-and-yellow nodding blooms. It has ferny foliage and grows 3 feet tall. Zones 3-8
'Melba Higgins' columbine
Aquilegia 'Melba Higgins' grows 24-30 inches tall and bears midnight blue flowers on blue-green foliage in midspring. Zones 4-8
Rocky Mountain columbine
Aquilegia caerulea, the state flower of Colorado, is native throughout much of the Rocky Mountain West. Its blossoms are most commonly blue and white, although a pink-and-yellow variant is also available. Zones 3-8
'Spring Magic Navy and White' columbine
Aquilegia 'Spring Magic Navy and White' produces bold blue-and-white flowers on a compact 14-inch-tall plant. Zones 4-8
Columbine Companion Pants
Phlox are those bounteous summer flowers that should be found in any large sunny flowerbed or border. There are several different kinds of phlox. Garden and meadow phlox produce large panicles of fragrant flowers in a wide assortment of colors. They also add height, heft, and charm to a border. Low-growing wild Sweet William, moss pinks, and creeping phlox are effective as groundcovers, at the front of the border, and as rock and wild garden plants, especially in light shade. These native gems have been hybridized extensively, especially to toughen the foliage against mildew problems; many recent selections are mildew resistant. Phlox need amply moist soil for best overall health.
No fall garden should be without toad lilies. These Asian curiosities bloom with orchid-like flowers that demand a close look, and they do it when the garden is winding down in fall. They grow best in light shade in humus-rich soil that retains moisture, and they are suitable for borders or less formal parts of the garden and among shrubs. Some self-seed but not aggressively, and they gradually become large clumps.
Foamflower is a plant for all seasons. In spring, the charming flowers light up dark places—even under pines in dry shade. Its evergreen lobed leaves, in a wide assortment of shapes, patterns, and markings, form healthy clumps that look good all growing season long. Use them at the front of borders as edgings or accents, or plant them close as groundcovers in lightly shaded woodland gardens. High-humus soils are excellent, but foamflower is easy to please.