Oh, My Darling Columbine

The Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was looking mighty fine last weekend. I really have nothing new to say about this plant. Just: isn’t it marvelous?



This Columbine is growing near some Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris).




In my opinion Columbine should be required in every temperate garden, like seat belts or smoke detectors. Perhaps not as a matter of safety, but it is simply wrong for gardeners to deprive themselves of this plant.



Here’s a Columbine flower with Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaritica) in the background. I only grow the one North American species of Columbine, A. canadensis. There are other species, but I’ve been given to understand that Columbine species will interbreed very readily. Since they are rather short-lived in my garden, I would soon have nothing but Columbine mutts.





Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing, but why improve on perfection?




Here’s some Columbine with False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla).


I’ve been told that Columbine actually prefers lean soil. Perhaps my rich soil causes it to grow lushly but then expire early, like a person living on a diet of steak and cheesecake. In any case, it’s a good thing that it self-sows.


Though you never know where Columbine will pop up.


Wild Columbine is like a cloud of dangling red and yellow chandeliers.


It seems like such an improbable flower, but so beautiful.

81 Comments on “Oh, My Darling Columbine

  1. I love your word ‘improbable’ – there are quite a few flowers that strike me as that, including granny’s bonnets.

  2. Your columbine is lovely. I tried a few different kinds several years ago, but they didn’t last long. Maybe I should get the kind you have. Please tell me the sun/shade situation where you have your columbines. Maybe I should try them again and situate them in a different place. I love the idea of plants that are pretty and also self-sowing. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me about them.

    • Hi Jeanette. In my garden the Columbine seems to like part shade best. It couldn’t hurt to at least get some A. canadensis seed and sow them in a few different places, then see if they do well in any of them.

  3. Love this improbably flower, which, alas, will not grow in my gardens. What a beauty!

      • Sigh. That’s how it is at the little house in the big woods. Very difficult to garden here. But because I’m a fool for flowers, I persevere 😉

  4. Mine are just wrapping up their bloom time, so I’ll enjoy yours. Lovely photos–all!

  5. I love how columbine pops up here and there around the yard – always a welcome sight, even if a bit spindly when in the shade.

  6. They are beautiful, but for some unknown reason, they just die on me, I’ve tried a few times!

  7. Beautiful photos of columbines, and thanks for explaining its on-again-off-again tendencies. I always assume whatever happens or doesn’t happen in my yard is my doing or not doing.

  8. I agree. This columbine is my favorite. I have tried several different colors and they are all so finiky. They don’t grow for me. So why fight a good thing? Sit back and enjoy it.

  9. Perfectly lovely, especially against the blues. I love the yellow ‘Swallowtail’ with the extra-long spurs but it flops no matter what is planted to prop it up. Natives could well be the answer.

    • A. canadensis is actually not native to the West Coast. I’m not sure if you’ve got a native Columbine in your area.

  10. Not a bad idea to keep to one species.
    They do hybridise very freely

  11. I’m the exception to the rule here.

    I do like columbine flowers, but they never seem to attract any pollinators in my garden, grow enormous (3 feet tall is not unusual for the native species) and self-seed beyond any other plant I’ve seen (well, except perhaps crabgrass and love-in-a-mist). They also seem to have no problem here coming back year after year and developing huge, woody root systems. And after their blooms have faded, they often look worse for the wear as leaf miners eat them to shreds.

    So…as a wild plant in a woodland? Lovely.

    But I’m actually trying to evict columbine from my garden.

    (Believe me, it will be a long, long term process to get rid of those zillions of seedlings…)

  12. Your photos are beautiful. It is one of the most common wild flower around here. I am always surprised to see that they do well in very dry road banks in full sun. Even growing wild they are also short lived.

  13. I’d not seen wild columbine before, which is gorgeous. Thank you for posting photos of them. Our garden is full of the… well, what shall I call them… tame columbine? They’re gorgeous too. One day I’ll have to put more of them in a post.

    • I’m guessing yours is A. vulgaris? Wild Columbine is the common name we use – not sure if it is wilder than any other species, other than cultivars.

      • I gather that the one you have just grows in America which is why I’ve never seen it before (and, sadly, am unlikely to unless we get a visit from a distance-flying American robin with some in its beak!). Yes, I think ours is A. Vulgaris.

  14. They are a beautiful flower and you’re lucky to have them. They look like they really like it in your yard. I once worked for a lady who would pull the plants and scatter the seeds as soon as they were ripe, and she had a yard full of them.

  15. Oh, I’m with you, I just love this plant. I must have about thirty varieties now and only today discovered a gorgeous blue one. They really are delightful and need no nursing, they just seem to get on with it. Yours are adorable.xxx

  16. I love columbine and hope mine make as many babies as possible. They’re total swingers in my garden but I get to reap the benefit.

  17. Yes, yes, yes! Mine is not blooming yet, but it usually takes a little longer where I have it planted–in the shade, facing north. I agree: Every temperate garden needs Columbine!

  18. Lovely pictures! I am a great fan of Aquilegias too, and have many of the A. vulgaris in my rockery, but have tried to get the A. canadensis established in vain. Perhaps it likes a slightly acid soil. Anyway, lovely to see your photos. 🙂

  19. It really is so pretty – I love the ethereal quality of those delicate flowers held aloft on the red stems. Interesting to see that the leaves are toothed, whereas the vulgaris leaves I have here are plain lobed. I’d plant some but I fear it’d quickly mix with my purple and pink A.v. I can see why you like it so much!

  20. I enjoy seeing them each spring when I travel. I have smaller clumps as do you, but yesterday I saw a huge stand some 40′ square at Castle Howard on Roger Brook’s blog. At Longwoods, there is a whole garden dedicated to Aquilegia, very specialty varieties of every color. It is such a beautiful sight I try to see each spring. Mine look pedestrian by comparison.

  21. I love columbine…mine are just starting to bloom right now. It’s fun to see where they’ll pop up next – last year, one appeared in the middle of a clump of juniper and it looked so sweet I couldn’t remove it. It’s blooming merrily away right now. More will follow, I’m sure.

    It’s always a treat to find the wild ones when we’re out hiking in the mountains – you don’t see them that often.

  22. They are indeed lovely. I had to stop because they became infested with leaf miners. Have you had that problem?

  23. Aw, I love my columbine mutts. Every so often there’s one that’s kind of an ugly mutant, but most of them are lovely. I basically let them grow wherever they want.

    • Well, I haven’t had any mutts, so I guess I shouldn’t imply that they are undesirable. But I do like having one species that stays true to form.

  24. I’ve always loved wild columbines in the wild, but have never grown them. I think my garden does need them and I may have a spot!

  25. Hello Jason, I have to agree with you, they have a very delicate air and grace and set against the blue false forget-me-nots and with the green of the ferns in the background, it’s come straight out of a “Perfect Garden” book.

  26. These are so lovely and graceful. You are right not to dabble with other kinds in case they hybridise. A. canadensis is perfect.

  27. Gorgeous – like Sam and others above, I only have A. vulgaris. Is yours A. canadensis?

  28. Love all the photos of your beautiful columbine but the first one is amazing. Quite beautiful.

  29. I’m growing Aquilegia canadensis from seed this year and our cold spring is has them sulking as tiny seedlings still, I hope they mature to be as beautiful as yours Jason, I can see why you love them so much.

  30. Yes, I love it! Your photos are a testament to how lovely they look with other woodland plants.

  31. I grow lots of Aquilegias in all different colours but I have never tried this one. I am drooling over these photos and will certainly seek out seeds for it. Gorgeous!

    • Because this one is the only one I have ever grown, I think of red and yellow as the “normal” colors for Columbine. Good luck with A. canadesis, I hope it performs well for you.

  32. A beautiful plant indeed. I have just one A. Canadensis Tequila Sunrise in our garden, the rest of which is awash with mutts from various other types, each of which I love too!

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