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Columbine: My Favorite Flower

In all the world of flowers, Aquilegia blooms, also known as Columbine and Granny's Bonnet, are my favorite. That is saying a lot!

Why do I love them so? I don't know; it's an emotional response. The first time I found one blooming in my garden, I was enchanted. This was soon after we moved to our current home, and I was yet a baby gardener. The charming pink flower with its frilly white petticoat reminded me of a little fairy girl, dressed for a party. I also love the clump forming, fern-like foliage with deeply lobed leaves. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all love these flowers, too, and I love that they love them.

I soon found several more columbines scattered about the property. I suspect these were planted long ago by the original owner of my home, Mrs Dearing, and I think of them as a surprise gift from her. I transplanted my finds to a location in the front garden, and they have flourished in the rich organic mulch that covers the paths in that area. These perennials live only a few years but reseed readily, and every spring I search the paths for new seedlings, which I move to better locations as needed.These photos, taken last year, show columbine blooming beside a path in the front garden along with other spring flowers. My columbine haven't begun blooming yet this year, but they should be flowering by the end of this month.

The many varieties of columbine will cross pollinate, producing offspring with different characteristics. Because I love what I have, which I think is Aquilegia vulgaris, I have hesitated introducing other species. But this past weekend I relented when confronted with the multiple hued blooms with widely space, long spurs that characterize the McKanna hybrids. I bought several and then planted them in the woodland garden away from the others in the front. It will be interesting to see what sort of offspring they produce and if they do as well as my originals.Just planted McKanna hybrids, shown here in the woodland garden in front of spreading yews, have only a few blooms now, but new buds should open as spring unfolds.

Columbine isn't perfect. The foliage is subject to leaf miners, which leave unsightly trails in the leaves. While this doesn't seem to harm the plant, it spoils the beauty. The flowers bloom in spring, then the leaf miners arrive by summer. I usually cut the affected plants back to the ground, and then fresh perfect foliage will sprout back. In my mild climate, the foliage will often persist through the winter.

Aquilegia varieties will grow in hardiness zones 3-8. They do best in well drained, moist soil high in organic matter, and they prefer light to moderate shade. With their naturalizing but never weedy habit, they are most at home in a cottage or woodland type garden.

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Reader Comments (26)

You pick a fine one for your favorite, Deb. No, not perfect but what is. That naturalizing habit definitely is an asset. First time I noticed mine spreading, I stood agape in admiration.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

I used to spend time pulling out Columbines in the garden when we just moved. A few years later I found appreciation for them and now we encourage them to grow in our garden. Such beautiful spring blooms they have, tough and undemanding too, love em!

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

A lovely choice! I have never had problems with leaf miners (yet), so I think only good things about their foliage. I love the way Aquilegia seed themselves around so readily, but perhaps my very favourite thing about Aquilegia is the way A. chrysantha 'Yellow Queen' darts about in the breeze.

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Gardening Shoe

Hi Deb....What a wonderful choice for a favorite. I love Columbines too. I have several different ones and I really like that they spread all over. I also like the fact that they have so many different "looks".

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristy

I have to agree, I love these sweet early bloomers deb! I have a soft yellow double. Hope it comes back this year! Yours are all lovely!

March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEve

"And the columbine are bending their heads in the rain"... a verse from a favorite childhood melody.
Columbine are my favorite as well, and they surely do remind of little fairies... as you said... dressed for a party. Lovely post , Deb

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

I had never heard "Granny's Bonnet" -- that made me smile. My columbines seed around but they are all reverting to purple, although I had many different colors to start. A friend told me that is their natural inclination -- they tend to go purple for her too. But I do love them in my garden, even if the original color plan is losing out!

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Such a lovely plant, I brought seeds of mine with me when we moved here, they were pink, then a neighbour gave me some blue ones, now we have all sorts of colours!! I have never tried the ones with long spurs, will wait to hear you opinion! Have you ever grown Aquilegia canadensis, I tried, but they only lasted 2 or3 yrs for me, must try some seed again, they are so sweet, very tiny with red and yellow flowers.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Thank you for an excellent article. I have always loved them, but am not able to grow them here in Zone 9. Have enjoyed your photos.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMeta

I do agree with your description, a pretty little fairy in a beautiful frock! I have a couple in my garden that I grew from seed but sadly they don't selfseed for me or even grow well from collected seed so I just have the two plants, a shame as I would like more. Christina

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

These charming cottage flowers are one of my favorites as well...yours are just beautiful...I won't see mine until May. Can't wait!

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

When I think of Columbines I think of the American West--one of my favorite parts of the country. We have wild and garden hybrid Columbines here, too, but they never seem as vibrant, lush, and colorful as the plants out West. Yours are beautiful--and captured in the perfect springtime oblique light!

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

I can't say this is my number 1 favorite, but it's definitely in the top 10. What I like best is the native North American A. canadensis, which has red and yellow flowers. During our honeymoon we camped at a place in New Mexico called Columbine Canyon, there were wild columbine along the hiking trails.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I initially planted columbine to feed my hummingbirds. I now encourage them and find new plantings to bring into the garden because of the color and beautify they add. I am hard pressed to say that they are my favorites. Plants are a so much like children, it seems unfair to have a favorite.

March 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Beautiful photographs and flowers! Love the bee!

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

Real spring beauties. I've a few in my garden too. You Mckanna hybrids are lovely. I wish them well in your garden.

March 13, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

beautiful aquilegias Deb and the flowers in your previous post are beautiful too, so much in bloom, Frances

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

I too love aquilegias, and enjoy seeing what these promiscuous little beauties create between them by way of offspring, but I agree, sometimes you have one you really love and don't want to see adulterated. Not much sign of aquilegias in this garden as yet, but I am sowing seed as I cannot be without them.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

I love columbine too. I first fell in love with the long-spurred ones first and found the granny bonnets later.

Great picture of the bee! Your pink granny bonnets look beautiful with the woodland phlox!

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

Hi Deb
Columbines are definitely high on my "Like" list! They look so dainty and feminine but they're tough. They may prefer rich soft soil but do very well in dried out clay as well. Columbines are one of my earliest perennials and pose so beautifully for the camera :)

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

I love Columbines. I tried growing our native Columbine last year, Aquilegia formosa, but I don't think it made it through winter. I keep watching for it. If it doesn't show though, your photos are really making me want to try again. I'd love to see some in my garden. I might need to find a slightly more sheltered spot for it next time though, as I think it got a little scorched last summer.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Hi Deb,

I'm a gardener who has been lurking in your blog for a couple of years.

I'm actually commenting to ask you to support a white petition I made to ask the president to allow all of us gardeners to *legally* grow breadseed poppy: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/allow-american-gardeners-legally-grow-breadseed-poppies-also-known-papaver-somniferum-or-papaver/FY4FkP3d

Please review and sign it if you agree. Hopefully you won't consider this spam. BTW the columbines are lovely! Up here we're still in Winter's icy grip.



March 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJC

Love Columbines, they can be a bit aggressive, but who cares in the Spring. If they get in the way, I just dig them up since others will continue to reseed.

March 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterReed Pugh

I love them too. They are the only plants that I don't weed out from between my paving stones - they are very welcome!

March 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterb-a-g

I can see why you were attracted to the McKanna hybrids -- such enchanting colors. I think I planted some of these once, but the only columbines that are really happy in my garden are simple, pale mauve volunteers that I'm delighted to see each spring.

March 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Deb, The first time I came across Columbine was something like forty years ago. We had just moved into our first house with a garden and our neighbour had these plants, I had never seen the likes before and thought they were something exotic that should not be growing in our cool climate. Still waiting for the Crocus to bloom over here.

March 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair
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