Columbines a 'happy flower' for the garden

Add a little happiness to your garden this season with an array of different varieties of columbine.

Native columbines are seen in bloom on June 5 in a garden, just waiting for the hummingbird to find them.
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun

There are certain flowers that I call “happy” flowers because of their characteristics. Columbine falls into this category with its carefree and light nature. Growing up, I use to seek these flowers out when walking on wooded nature trails or just while walking along a roadside. They were easy to spot with their hanging red lanterns of spurred blooms. Their dainty delights floating in the wind can do nothing else but make you smile.

Columbines grow well in nature where they are offered semi-shade and well-drained soils. They can also grow in full sun or deep shade, but their best colors are displayed with dappled light. The wild ones in our area are typically red but in other parts of the country can come in numerous other shades.

Since they develop a taproot, once established, these perennials tend to be very drought tolerant and are used often in xeriscapes or dry landscapes. Once mature, they grow to heights of 1 to 3 feet depending on the selection planted.  

When they first emerge in spring, they resemble a large clump with clover-like leaves. As they age, these leaves resemble the meadow rue more often. In late May, flower stems arise from the center to produce numerous pointed flower buds on thin stems. As the buds open, they produce a flower with a central round cup surrounded by five larger petals which each contain a long spur on the back. The flowers hang upside down from these thin stems to dance in the air on a breezy day.

Typically red, many new hybrids will produce numerous other colors — white, yellow, blue, pink and purple. Many of these hybrids produce flowers that are easily two or three times the size of the wild columbines to present a dynamic display in the garden.


Some nice varieties on the market today are ‘Red Hobbit’ with its large red flowers and white centers, ‘Blackcurrant Ice’ with its deep purple petals and light yellow centers and ‘Swan Pink Yellow’ with its coral pink petals and pale yellow centers to name a few of the bi-color selections. For solid shades, try ‘Alpine’ with its sky blue flowers, ‘Crystal’ or ‘Origami White’ with its pure white blooms, or ‘Origami Yellow’ with its buttercup yellow petals.

John Zvirovski.jpg
John Zvirovski, Jamestown Sun garden editor
John M. Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

There are also some hybrids that produce double-flowering blooms such as the ‘Clementine’ series of red, white, yellow, blue and purple solid colors. There is also ‘Bordeaux Barlow’ with deep double burgundy flowers, ‘Blue Barlow’ with deep blue flowers and ‘Black Barlow’ with its nearly black double blooms to name a few. All mixed in your garden together will create a wonderful display of beautiful flowers until mid to late June.


Most columbines do not need to be divided in the garden, as they can grow and bloom from the same clump year after year without issue. Make sure that after the plant is done blooming to remove all the faded blooms so they do not go to seed. If a plant is allowed to go to seed year after year, you will find the plant itself will decline in vigor and eventually succumb to the elements. However, if you allow the seeds to drop to the soil each year, you will find that many new plants can develop throughout the garden. As nice as this may seem, rest assured they this process may cause a ‘weed’ problem, that tends to be hard to eliminate due to their strong taproots. You will be pulling them out for an entire season.

The best way to create a new plant is to gather the seed from the plant when they are ripe and plant them in containers during the spring season. Once the plants are large enough to handle, transplant them into the garden in locations you actually want them to grow. If you have a naturalized area of wild flowers, simply sprinkle the seeds around that area and they will germinate on their own to create a diverse bed of flowers during the late spring period.  

Add a little happiness to your garden this season with an array of different varieties of columbine. Not only will their light and airy presence delight you, they will also attract many butterflies and hummingbirds, which love their blooms as well. It’s a win/win proposal!

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