Sic Transit Aquilegia

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), native to eastern and central North America, is another of my favorite flowers of late spring.

Wild Columbine dance in the breeze above a patch of Spanish Bluebells.
Wild Columbine dance in the breeze above a patch of Spanish Bluebells.

As someone once said, “Columbine are like candy, you can never have too much.” Wild Columbine flowers dangle like red and yellow chandeliers. The ferny blue-green foliage is attractive all year; even when the leaf miners leave their trails (which does not happen that often), it doesn’t bother me.

Columbine with Spanish Bluebells and Ostrich Ferns.
Columbine with Spanish Bluebells and Ostrich Ferns.

In our garden I have noticed a disturbing pattern, though. After a couple of years a patch of Wild Columbine is magnificent, the plants three feet or taller and covered with blooms in late May and June.

But after a couple of more years – they disappear. I strongly suspect that Wild Columbine are beautiful but not strongly competitive. If other plants cover the ground early in the season, the Wild Columbine will whither away.

Wild Columbine with Wild Geranium in the background.
Wild Columbine with Wild Geranium in the background.

Right now the only big patch of Wild Columbine in our garden is at the corner where the North Foundation Bed meets the East Side Bed. The Wild Columbine self-sow happily here as elsewhere as long as there is bare ground.

Currently they combine beautifully with Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) with Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) providing a backdrop.

Another view.
Another view.

Is the lesson here that in order to keep Wild Columbine I will have to periodically create little Columbine Safety Zones by yanking out their competitors?

What’s your experience with Columbines, Wild or otherwise?

59 Comments on “Sic Transit Aquilegia

  1. Very pretty. Your garden is looking lovely.
    I love the orange colour of the wild ones.
    We had a patch growing next to some wild ginger.
    It came up every year. But the ginger didn’t seem to crowd it, so they both kept to their turf.

    This year I have a great variety of shades of columbines. Light pink, medium pink, deep pink; a blue-purple; a deep purple double flower, and one that combines light pink with deep pink. I never planted all these varieties. I planted only the deep purple and a pink — so it’s a delightful surprise to see how many shades we now have, and how well every plant is doing.

  2. This is the best year for columbine I’ve ever had. They are taller with more blooms per plant and more of the plants blooming. They seem to be quite happy self seeding among the wild strawberries, but I’ve also transplanted them into other spots, and they are doing well. Mine get leaf miners every year, but it doesn’t seem to bother them for the following year.

    • The leaf miners do cosmetic damage only, though it bothers some people. Glad you’re having a good year for Columbines.

  3. Your columbines are absolutely gorgeous and I am so envious! We have the Aquilegia vulgaris in abundance, but trying to source the American ones is almost impossible here. I found and planted one last year and it did not reappear. As the comment above, mine was among wild strawberries… If I find another plant I will try again though, or perhaps I could find a seed supplier.

  4. The columbines are stunning – I’ve not seen A. canadensis for sale in Australia (I have many columbines in my garden and the self-sow beautifully) I imagine would make a lovely cross

  5. In the Upstate, A. canadensis grows wild along mountain roadsides. It is quite a sight. Very pretty in your garden too. Nice backdrop with the ferns.

  6. The wild ones tend to appear here and there. I have a couple of huge swathes of them. They have been in the same place several years. The fancy columbines don’t like my garden. They have not reproduced and rarely return. I don’t know what that is all about.

  7. Nice photos! My experience with columbine is that they are hard to grow here! Maybe I need to grow them as an annual. I love yours.

  8. I like columbines, but…leaf miners also like them…a lot. I could never get them through a season without being devastated by the leaf miners.

  9. I think, as you mentioned, it’s bare ground. Wild Columbine seems to thrive in untidy gardens. All my self seeders do best in areas that I tend to ignore or do not mulch. Very nice indeed with the Spanish Bluebells!

  10. I love Columbine. Mine never get very tall (maybe a foot) but it never comes back in the same place for me. I’ve even found some 6 ft. from the flower bed in another bed.

  11. Your wild columbines look so pretty with the bluebells. Mine appear in different parts of the garden each year and ar always a welcome sight.

  12. I love aquilegias and have had them (cultivated varieties) in every garden — even this one, which was planted by the former owners! I’ve found that the shorter cultivars, such as Red Hobbit and the Winky series, do not seed themselves around like the taller varieties do. In my last garden I had a lovely stand of the dark blue ‘Melba Higgins’ but don’t know its longevity as I had to leave before the clump was more than three years old.

  13. I am starting to have more in my garden. It is my husband’s favorite plant. I have a clump of pink that is getting quite large. Yours are lovely. Interesting about how you noticed it disappeared…I have had a hard time keeping it in my garden:-)

  14. I love aquilegias and from time to time I start some new different ones from seed. Eventually they all mingle and come up everywhere. They are the great delight of the May garden. I love your wild ones.

    • I should perhaps try some different species/varieties. Are you generally happy with the spontaneous hybrids that come up in your garden?

      • I love them all. I have read that you should not let them hybridise but I have found you get some delightful results if you let the bees have their way.

      • I’ve heard that it’s very difficult to stop them from hybridizing if you have two or more varieties.

  15. In my last garden, full sun, the columbines seeded around a lot. Now I have them in a shady area where they return each year (so far) but never pop up anywhere else.

  16. How beautiful they look with those bluebells and ferns! I love columbines, they are such hardy plants. I seem to have lots of doubles this year, in lots of colours, I love the unexpected each year which mine certainly

  17. I know of only one place where they grow wild and that is on rock ledges with no more than a half inch of soil for their roots, but lots of moisture. You might try scratching a little lime in around them.

  18. Those columbines look great against the ferns. Wonderful shapes and colours. My garden is full of A. vulgaris and some of them will really have to go, because they are swamping other things

  19. Jason, your columbine look nice with the ferns and bluebells. Mine is finished flowering and did well this year. It has spread itself all around the garden and this year even found its way into the front yard. I’m trying to pull it out but it doesn’t like to go without a fight. Am busy trying to put down mulch so will try to thwart the new seeds.

  20. Interesting…because during a hike last summer, we noticed that the only plant effectively competing with Garlic Mustard along the trail was Wild Columbine. It was discouraging to see so much Garlic Mustard, yet wonderful to see the Columbine. With that said, we had Columbines growing here at our current garden and then one year it disappeared and never came back. So, perhaps it competes effectively with some plants and not others. Last year, I added several Columbines–including two plants in shady whiskey barrels, where I was having trouble growing other plants. They all came back and are blooming profusely this year! I absolutely LOVE them, and am sad that it took this long to get them back in my garden. I’m planning to plant the seeds near the existing plants to help keep them going. The hummingbirds love them, too!

    • The hummingbirds always show up in my garden when the columbine are mostly done. Never considered growing them in containers – very creative idea.

  21. A lovely spring flower, I have some here but they don’t seed around; I usually save some of the seed to sow in trays but they aren’t all that successful although the original ones were grown from seed so that is strange.

  22. I love Columbine Jason. Here we have no wild ones, only garden Aquilegia. I grow them from seed then I plant seedlings near my garden pond. But time to time Columbine disappear,have no idea why.

  23. Only in the wild is where I find native columbine. It grows very rangy to all the gorgeous cultivars that are out there. I have one columbine, (not wild) that showed up in the middle of a heavy patch of bellflower in a scorching sunny location. It is so crowded, only the flowers reach out the top of the mass of bellflower. Maybe the wild ones like their space, but this one is more crowded than any plant in my garden. Each year it shows back up too. I have it pictured in my current post and you can see it all scrunched in the bed by the driveway. No logical sense why it decided to grow there. Every growing condition is wrong for columbine. Bone dry, clay soil, blazing sun, tight growing conditions – makes no sense.

  24. Columbine have become one of my favorites, too. I don’t have the native kind, but I’ve noticed, too, that my favorite blue ones have disappeared. But they’re in the midst of hostas and ferns that are growing huger every year–I also suspect that they’re being crowded out.

  25. Enjoyed meeting you and talking a bit in Toronto. Scrolling through your recent posts, I came to this one — aquilegia canadensis was exploding in my garden the weekend before the Fling. Since it was so damp I was able to dig and move whole clumps out of one bed that was almost solid bloom. I may post on this soon since thinning them out improved the appearance of two spots, the one they went to and the one they left behind.

    • It was great meeting you, Pat. I should think about doing transplanting some columbine when the soil is nice and moist.

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