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Spring

Spring is party time in Iowa, when gardens often look their best. Those celebrations happen in the form of familiar, seasonally emblematic plants such as columbine (above).

In the underappreciated department hangs a portrait of Aquilegia canadensis ‘Corbett’, the butter yellow form of the familiar and charmingly weedy wild columbine that so many of us treasure — and curse — with fondness.

The story goes that two brothers, Andrew and Larry Clemens, were out doing what adventurous boys do along railroad tracks near Corbett, Maryland.

They discovered a dwarf, compact, yellow-flowering columbine, knowing well enough that columbines were not normally this color. They transplanted one to their mother’s garden and enjoyed it for a few seasons before it disappeared.

Out and about in another spring, Andrew rediscovered the plant in the wild, collected seeds, and distributed them to neighbors to keep the plant and the story alive.

One of those neighbors was a nurseryman who successfully propagated and introduced ‘Corbett’ to horticulture in 1992, almost 25 years after the plant was originally discovered.

I think of the brothers every spring that I enjoy ‘Corbett’ among the dwarf irises in my front garden. Though I lovingly curse its wild-type forebear, I have to confess that I’m a bona fide columbine-a-holic.

I love their promiscuity, their variation, and those enchanting noddingflowers that initially captured my fascination as a child wanderingalong gravel roads near my boyhood home.

‘Corbett’ bewitches me so, a perfectly charming miniature of its larger cousins.

It’s important to remember that the noteworthy plants in nature’s living room aren’t necessarily flamboyant and sassy. A zoneworthy plant can be, say, a recliner, maybe a votive candle.

One such subtle but essential shade fixture I enjoy in mid-May is dwarf Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum humile).

Ever running around the garden floor in search of a neighbor to cuddle next to, dwarf Solomon’s seal (not shown) never grows more than six or eight inches (at least the majority of forms available in garden centers).

Little fluted stems with white, teardrop-shape flowers pop up in May here in Iowa and join a woodland crowd in full swing — violets, bleeding hearts, and epimediums, to name a few.

Culturally, it’s a cinch. Drop Solomon’s seal roots into some decent humus, cool in the shade, and you’re on your way to enjoying these votive candles of the woodland garden.



(Read more about The Zoneworthy Garden)

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