Salisbury, MD: Columbines: Hummers and butterflies love them. Deer lose their appetite and move on. Most insects can't be bothered. Columbines, depending on species, are two to three feet tall and come in a variety of beautiful colors, some are even bi-colored. Of even higher value than the colors are the exquisite shapes of the flowers with a look that has been described as anything ranging from honeycomb to an eagles claw. However ever you see it, the intricacies of the blossoms are delightful. Besides their trademark "spurs", some flowers "nod" and some face upward. Columbines, grow single, double and even triple flowers and bloom in late April and early May while the rest of the garden is still asleep. They make great cut flowers and have a long season of bloom. Once established, they are among the most drought tolerant. What's not to love about them?
Columbines are perennials (they come back year after year) and look great in most landscapes, blending in beautifully with many different gardening styles. They thrive in moist soil in dappled sunlight and re-seed prolifically. Some varieties are said to date back to the 1600's and columbines are plants that never require spraying or pruning and only occasionally dividing. Of little consequence, the leaves are often marked with the zig-zagging trails of leaf miners, but this is rarely a serious problem. The Gardening Grannies think that the markings add an "artistic touch"! There is one horticultural practice that is purely dependent on your gardening philosophy. If you deadhead the spent blossoms, the strength used to develop seeds will feed into the longevity of the parent plants. If you don't deadhead, columbines will re-seed prolifically but may decline and die after three or four years. The Gardening Grannies suggest that if you purchase one of the newer hybrids, you will want to deadhead to keep the parent plant going as long as possible to maximize your investment. As we all know, when hybrids throw off seeds, they do not usually come true to the plant in your garden but rather throw back to one of the parent plants. Columbines are a short-lived perennial and you can expect them to live for three to five years in your garden setting.
If you decide to start seeds from a packet instead of purchasing a plant already in bloom, check instructions on the packet to determine whether the seeds have to be chilled prior to sowing. If chilling is required, drop the packet in the "meat drawer" section of your refrigerator for a couple of months. Then, plant shallowly at a depth of 1/8 inch and water lightly. Keep evenly moist during the germination period and that's all there is to it! Seeds will germinate in about thirty days and plants will flower in the second year.
The Latin name for Columbine is Aquilegia, which means ‘eagle' or ‘hawk' so named because the blossoms resemble the talons of one of the birds of prey. Other sources say that the name comes from the Latin word Columba which means ‘dove'. While cultivated in the mid-Atlantic region, columbines grow wild in many parts of the U.S., particularly in Colorado.Historically, columbines are believed to have crossed into North America some 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. They then spread from Alaska throughout the continent, with new species developing along the way. Symbolically, the columbine is used in art to represent the dove of peace or the Holy Spirit so, if you're developing a garden with religious symbolism, this plant is for you.
If you don't currently have columbines in your garden, consider adding a few this season You'll be glad that you did.
The Gardening Grannies are a group of avid and Master Gardeners who live, love and garden on the Delmarva Peninsula. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org