This delicate looking but often overlooked perennial in the garden is one of the most versatile and hardy plants you can have. It is a prolific re-seeder which you NEED to share with friends in your neighborhood or friends across the country. In many cases it will grow in full to part sun and will grow in most soils especially from seed. Here in the South it likes to be somewhat moist and in my red clay soil it has thrived and adapted growing larger each year as the soil becomes richer from mulching!
In April (here in zone 7) the Columbines start to bloom and by the early part of May the plants are usually filled with the delicate flowers. I love these spring blooming plants and have found in my experience that giving them morning sun and afternoon shade ensures large plants!
I throw down the seeds after I collect them off the plant and many come up during the summer. I do not winter sow or do anything special but try and remember where I threw them down in the summer, fall, or early spring. The Aquilegia (Columbine) can get larger than the tag states, I have found, if it likes the spot. The advantage of this beautiful plant is that it grows along with the other plants beautifully.
Columbine (Aquilegia) are for zones 3-9 so just about anyone in the U.S. can grow these beauties. In the lower zones from 5 and under, you can have great success growing them in full sun. They reseed themselves and sometimes the seeds will not be the same color as the original plant because I have found they will cross pollinate. Here in zone 7 (at least for me) they are semi evergreen and only die back in the dead of winter when the temps dip to the teens for a few weeks. The blooms do not waiver or crush under the attack of rainstorms and the plant blooms for weeks and produces thousands of seeds.
I have several varieties that stay strong here in my gardens. I collect the seeds during the middle of June right before the seed pods turn brown. To check for the readiness of the seed harvest, go up and gently shake the seed pods and listen for the rattle of the seeds. If you hear a rattle they are ready to be cut off the plant and shipped off to friends or even thrown down in a new bed. Try not to pick them if they do not rattle-I have found in my experience the germination rate drops if you get too anxious. I also make sure the pods dry in a plastic dish or container without a lid until they are completely dried to avoid mold.
I have a white and pink ruffled Columbine that is now 3 years old and is about 2 1/2 feet tall with the blooms and seed pods. My purple columbine in the front yard bed is at least 18″ wide and 24″ high. I have a white Columbine mixed in a pot with a hosta that came up voluntarily. The white Aquilegia are not as prolific as the other colors. I also have one that is very close to blue but I cannot find the pic so later on I hope to post about it.
My newest addition this spring was a very pale pink that just popped up out of nowhere. I hope it comes back next year so I can write all about it.
Now I hope to add many more colors in the spring 2015 especially the native Aquilegia Canadensis which are red and yellow bloom to help attract more hummingbirds. Unfortunately I am kind of running out room so I have had re- create some beds. Gardening with dogs who love to play and hunt for critters makes gardening a challenge at times. I have learned to breathe and remember they are not digging to make me mad. After all they are hunting those wretched moles and voles that are destroying my gardens.
Spring is my favorite time of the year and I anxiously wait to see what spring brings me because I forget to mark where I throw down seeds and mark plants so I remember what they are. I am more into the color, texture, and mix than the name. Which probably would drive other gardeners crazy.
I love gardening and I hope everyone can enjoy nature as much as I do. Happy gardening everyone.