The void between early spring bulbs and the flush of growth and flowers of early summer can be easily filled with the hardy and oh so beautiful Columbines. The genus is Aquilegia and as with many plant names, there is a story or reason for calling it such. Each of the delicate looking flowers sports a ‘spur’ or elongated portion of the petal(s) above the pollinating portions. Not only are these spurs attractive, they also are loved by humming birds and bees. These spurs, all five of them, allude to the common name ‘Columbine’ which is from the Latin for dove, as they appear to be five doves hovering together. A nice story for the gardener to pass on to younger ones who are showing an interest in the plants of the garden.
These plants will cross breed rather rambunctiously with other Columbines, a benefit to the gardener I feel. The resulting offspring have a tremendous array of colour combinations, heights and bloom sequences. Good to know that these perennials will reproduce remarkably from seed, however, the seed requires light to germinate. Nature takes care of this admirably for you, but if you are collecting seed and planting them yourself take care not to cover them. Typically, all Columbine will start to bloom rather early in the spring and continue throughout the season with rather long stalks boasting a profusion of colour. If you find that there are just too many Columbines re-seeded in your garden, dead head the floral stalks early so that seed does not form.
Columbines are rather deep-rooted perennials, an attribute to their ability to withstand drought conditions, but a detriment if you want to move and save a specific plant. I find that if you dig deeply around the clump and lift out using a fork is the best way to preserve an intact root ball. It is important to re-plant this root ball as quickly as is possible into a prepare and well soaked new location. It is not necessary to mulch; however, frequent and deep watering methods are crucial. I have transported some very special Columbine from a family member’s garden with some success as I promptly place the root ball in soaked paper toweling and placed the whole works into a plastic bag and tied it up. The real trick here is to keep the root ball intact. Planting Columbines into a container will work if you live in a moderate, Canadian climate and you are a frequent watering kind of gardener. The success will depend on your diligence with the hose/watering can or whatever method works best for you. The hummingbirds and other pollinators will be very happy with your portable garden, particularly on a balcony of an urban high-rise building. It should be noted that Columbines are moderately toxic to animals and as such caution should be taken with pets. Overall the negative affects are rather minor but messy as if ingested Columbines may cause vomiting and in more severe instances, diarrhea. You will know that your plants have reached maturity once they push a great deal of foliage; at this point they can withstand dry periods for a bit. Fertilizers are not absolutely required but if used on a regular basis, the plants will bush out and take on a deep green foliar colour.