When my daughter was born I started to see flowers as being more than “just plants” but important features of her imaginary world and the fairy gardens she would create. Foxgloves were little houses where the bees would live, and columbines (or Aquilegia) were pretty dresses for the fairies to wear to their fancy parties. Columbines are native to North America, Asia, and Europe and are super easy to grow, just don’t expect them to “stay put” as once established they will reseed and grow in the oddest of places. Aquilegia comes from the word Aquila which means “eagle” in Latin, and Columbine is from “Columba” (the dove) and a symbol for Aphrodite. I’m guessing the names stemmed from the wing-like shapes of the many petals. Anyways, in medieval days, dried, crushed columbine flowers were an all-purpose medicine and I read the Native Americans would use the seeds for headaches or even love charms. But please don’t try these remedies at home! (It’s my understanding that columbines can be toxic if ingested.)
I love how columbines don’t require much but well drained soil, and sun to a part shade location. Growing to about 18″ – 3′ tall (depending on the variety) they will reseed if you let them and pop up all over your garden which is nice if you like that cottage-garden look! If not, you can trim the flower stalks after flowering in the late spring and you might even get another flush of bloom. Columbines are a short-lived perennial, so my daughter and I like to take the pods and scatter the glossy black seeds to encourage volunteers. You can do the same from seeds you either purchase or are gifted from another gardener. They need a covering of about 1/8″ of soil (hardly any at all) and won’t bloom until their second year. Conversely, you can divide established plants in the early spring. Columbines will also hybridize like crazy. If you have others already growing in your neighborhood, don’t be surprised if you start getting some wonderful new colors popping up in yours, too.
Columbines are resistant to pests and diseases and the hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy their nectar. They make great companion plants to bleeding heart, iris, viola, and peonies as they have similar bloom times and soil requirements. Looking for seeds? I found some HERE.
These “double” columbines were recently purchased at a local nursery. The owner told me that she grew them from seed herself and they have since also hybridized with other columbines in her garden producing some lovely colors (a pale pink one in particular caught my eye).