June 20, 2011

Love You 'Melba Higgins'!

When I listed the flowers blooming in the garden last week, I did not mention 'Melba Higgins' aquilegia (columbine), but this little plant is the biggest thing going on right now in the backyard.

A few years ago I planted three tiny plants from Bluestone Perennials, then saved the seeds that formed and sprinkled them through the garden. Last year these seedlings were too small to bloom, but this year they're blooming their heads off.

The Melba Higgins show is especially noticeable this year, since the cool spring has kept so many other things from blooming so far. Delphiniums, iris and peonies would usually be full of flowers by now, but many of them are still sitting in bud stage. 'June Bride' heuchera, shown above, is an exception.

There are a few other blooms in the backyard, like this red peony from my friend Cindy. Glowing, rich blue-violet Melba Higgins complements these other flowers nicely. MH blooms spring to summer for four weeks or more, once established.

This columbine grows 24-30" tall and 20" wide. It's happy in full sun to mostly shady areas in zones 3-8 and handles a range of soil types. The delicate, lacy foliage fits in well around other plants, and its wide tolerance of sun conditions makes it a nice plant to add continuity to both sunny and shady areas of the garden.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of my Melba Higgins show is that it came (mostly) from seed. Big output from a small input! Seedlings will come true if it's the only type of columbine in your garden, but if you have several types then they'll probably produce hybrid seeds.

Since MH has been blooming for several weeks already, the show will soon finish up and I'll deadhead the plants to encourage them to save energy for next year instead of making more seeds. I'm very grateful for MH's ability to fill a blank spot in the blooming calendar, though!


  1. Wow. What a great plant. I love how they mingle with your other plants. Very nice.

  2. Hi VW,

    Lovely photos, it's such a gorgeous blue/violet colour.

    My Aquilegias have been flowering for such a long time this year... 2 months!! I'm quite amazed because normally they don't last long enough.

  3. Oh, how beautiful! I sowed a bunch of seeds from mine this spring too and they are coming up everywhere. Next spring they should bloom. It is so hard for me to wait a whole year. LOL! Your blues are so pretty. My Alpin blue one died over the winter. I was so sad to see it had died out.

  4. That's a gorgeous blue! Never have grown aquilegias here due to sun, but I probably have enough part shade now that I can start those.

  5. What a pretty bloom! Love how it has filled in and against the red peony-- what a nice combo.

  6. That's a lovely columbine! I'm SLOWLY getting into them, and sure do like ' Black Barlow' which comes true from seed.

  7. That is one beautiful blue columbine! Wow! -Jean

  8. Uwielbiam niebieskie orliki. Dla mnie są naturalistyczne i wspaniale prezentują się w lekko zacienionych zakątkach ogrodu :)


  9. I am the son of Melba Higgins of Smalltown Perennials, Burnt Hills, NY, which sent the plants to Bluestone Perennials. They recognized the different cultivar and named the plant after my Mother. She passed away last week on October 11, 2017, age 89, peacefully in her sleep...after breakfast.
    Captain Garry A. Higgins, U.S. Navy, Ret.

    1. Thank you for leaving this note, Captain Higgins! It's hard to say goodbye to your mother at any age. I love growing plants with a story, and now I'll get to remember your mother when I enjoy her flowers each spring. When in my garden, I like to think of my grandmother and her parents, all gardeners who have passed on. Gardens are special places that way.

  10. It will be 2 yrs this week Oct. 11th since my Grandmother Melba Higgins has passed. I knew she had told me of a flower named after her. I was so happy to see all these comments. ❤

  11. Dear Garry Higgins. I am from Burnt Hills and knew your mother and visited your sister in Austria. She hosted a weekly bible study for youth called, Pioneer Girls. Her love and knowledge of plants was obvious with the expansive garden she had at your home across from FoCastle Farms. Very sorry to hear of her passing. Love and light, Heike Will Hyson.


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