On as many occasions as I’ve heard Allan Armitage speak, I’m pat positive he’s mentioned this plant every single time. And rightly so. In the ‘underappreciated’ department hangs a portrait of this plant, the yellow-colored form of the familiar and charmingly weedy wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) that so many of us treasure and curse with fondness. The story (nearly legend now thanks to Dr. A and his wonderful book Legends in the Garden) 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 nurseryman Richard Simon who successfully propagated and introduced ‘Corbett’ to horticulture in 1992, almost 25 years after the plant was originally discovered.
I think of this story every spring that I enjoy ‘Corbett’ among the dwarf irises in my rock garden. Though I lovingly curse its wild-type forebearer, I have to confess that I’m a bona fide columbine-a-holic. I love their promiscuity, their variation, and those magical flowers that ever capture my child-like fascination. ‘Corbett’ bewitches me so, a perfectly charming miniature of its larger cousins.
There’s hardly anything to say about growing it, given that it’s such an easy species to please. ‘Corbett’ does have a tendency to die out after a few years, but a few (true-to-type) seedlings will no doubt take its place.