Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fragile as a Rock

Most gardens need more than hardscapes, angles and a few big pieces.  To pull the big together, it helps to intersperse with something light and airy. 
The trouble with light and airy is it’s often fragile.  Not so with Aquilegia, better known as Columbine.

·        It’s a perennial which eliminates yearly replanting.

·        Columbine waves in the spring winds but doesn’t get tattered. 

·        It self seeds but isn’t invasive. 

·        Most do well in partial sun and some shade.

·        They start blooming right after the spring bulbs and continue on and off all summer.

·        A late spring frost doesn’t hurt them.

·        Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love them.

·        They are not terribly expensive and gardeners often share starts.

·        Columbines are mostly pest and disease free.

·        They make a great cut flower.

·        It’s deer resistant.

Columbine plants have a low leafy patch that sends up long stems.  The flowers nod off the stem – most hanging down – some upward facing. 
The pretty orange and yellow columbine “Canadensis” is a native wildflower of many states including Illinois.  It’s the state flower of Colorado. 

Many have spurs where the hummingbird will seek nectar.  Others are honeycomb, double, spur less, flat or long.

Plant in well drained soil and add a heavy mulching to keep the roots cool in the middle of hot summers.  Once established they are drought tolerant; making them excellent for rock gardens.
If you want one Columbine plant, deadhead the flowers.  I do caution Columbine is a short lived perennial for a single plant.  If you don’t deadhead, you’ll have many other plants to take its place.
If you plant from seed, they won’t flower until the second year.  The flowers come in a full range of colors and many are bi-colored.  Flower sizes are dainty to almost three inches.  Some are fragrant.
They serve as an important early spring food source for insects and hummingbirds.  It’s the larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly.  

The only negative might be Columbine cross pollinates with other Columbine thanks insects; mostly bees.  If a hybrid is cross pollinated, it will normally return to its parent stock next year or in the seed it produces.  A bed of many beautifully multicolored Columbine may eventually be a bed of same color and shaped flowers down the road.  It can also happen by planting seeds.
I’d advise buying your Columbine plants at local nurseries.  They don’t seem to stand up to packing and mailing.  Most nurseries have a few examples although you may have to ask another gardener to share the old fashioned native kind. 

Enjoy a little dainty and sweet by planting Columbine.  It will soften the looks of a landscape yet be tough.  Plant close to your porch or deck and enjoy the bees, butterflies and hummers.   
Columbine has been around for centuries and our own Native Americans used it as an herbal. A Native American fact you will want to know:  It was believed crushed Columbine seeds rubbed on the palms of men was a love charm.  They also used it to treat poison ivy.  Not sure how those two worked together, but I’m sure there’s a joke in it someplace.  

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