Lacy foliage and beautifully poised flowers in exquisite pastels, deeper shades, and white give columbines a fairylike, woodland-glen quality. Plants are erect and range from 2 in. to 4 ft. high, depending on species or hybrid.
Divided leaves reminiscent of maidenhair fern (Adiantum) may be fresh green, blue green, or gray green. Slender, branching stems carry erect or nodding flowers to 3 in. across, often with sepals and petals in contrasting colors; they usually have backward-projecting, nectar-bearing spurs. Some columbines have large flowers and very long spurs; these have an airier look than short-spurred and spurless kinds. Double-flowered types lack the delicacy of the single-flowered sort, but they make a bolder color mass. Bloom season comes in spring and early summer.
Plants are not fussy about soil as long as it is well drained. On all columbines, cut back old stems for a second crop of flowers. Most are not long-lived and will need to be replaced every 3 or 4 years. Allow spent flowers to form seed capsules to ensure a crop of volunteer seedlings. If you’re growing hybrids, the seedlings won’t necessarily duplicate the parent plants, but seedlings from species (if grown isolated from other columbines) should closely resemble the originals. Leaf miners are a potential pest, especially on hybrids.
From Japan. This stocky plant grows 8 in. to 1 1/2 ft. tall and 1 ft. wide, with nodding, two-tone flowers of lilac-blue and creamy white. Hooked spurs to 1 in. long. Differs from most other columbines in having thicker, darker leaves with often overlapping segments.
This dwarf grows to 4–8 in. high, with two-toned flowers of white and blue, rose, or pink.
This strain grows to 20 in. tall and wide, with variegated foliage and blue, red, pink, purple, or whi...
Most astilbes sold belong to this hybrid group or are sold as such. Parentage is complex, but plants o...
This strain grows clumps 12–16 in. tall and wide, with flowers rising several inches higher. Upw...