Astilbe provides good show in the mid-summer garden

Backyard Gardener, By Patti Sharpe

Published on August 5, 2014
The frothy, pink blooms of 'Younique Carmine' Astilbe.
Patti Sharpe photo

Reliable performer easy to grow with almost no issues

Tropical storm Arthur arrived shortly after I wrote my last column, bringing with it powerful winds, but not much rainfall.

Things within my garden fared relatively well. Tall perennials needed straightening and some had to be staked to remain upright. My clematis, blooming prolifically when Arthur arrived, lost all its blossoms and is only now starting to produce new buds. I'm optimistic it will put on a good show in August and throughout the fall as it did last year.

The storm's real legacy along the West Colchester/Cobequid shore is in the form of scorched, brown leaves on many deciduous trees. This will remain with us for the remainder of the summer and fall. I'm curious to see what it means for colourful fall foliage. I suspect many trees will have none and just lose the dry, brown leaves they have now.

One perennial within my garden that has been especially noteworthy this summer is astilbe. I have three or four varieties in various colours — red, light pink, magenta, white — with only purple not represented; something I might remedy when next year's growing season begins.

Recently I visited the perennial fields at Balamore Farm in Great Village and their astilbe in full bloom is a sight to behold. Balamore Farm grows dozens of astilbe cultivars, along with numerous other field grown perennials, which they sell to growers throughout Canada and the United States.

Astilbes have long-blooming, plume-like flowers in shades of white, pink, red and purple and compact fern-like foliage. It's an extremely easy perennial to grow, with few issues and guarantees a good show in the mid-summer garden.

They’re at home in sun or part shade. Prolonged drought may cause the foliage to turn brown and dry up. They aren’t plagued by any pests of which I’m aware, never require staking and don’t spread in an unmanageable way. They can be divided into smaller clumps in three to five years to produce many more lovely plants. They’re virtually without fault and definitely one of my favourite perennials.

They are also lovely as a cut flower. No deadheading is required and the spent blooms may be left on the plant for winter interest. They also appear to be a plant deer won't eat.

Some of the newer varieties sport coloured foliage in shades of red or burgundy, which only adds to their appeal. Both dwarf and tall varieties are available, but even the taller ones boast sturdy, almost woody stems, so are never prone to flopping over in strong winds. Their fern-like foliage looks great with large-leafed plants such as hostas and they’re also suitable for mixed containers.

One thing that interests me is that most gardeners refer to them by their Latin name — astilbe. Latin or botanical names can be intimidating and many gardeners tend to avoid them, yet I've never heard them called by their common names of False Spirea or False Goatsbeard. I doubt many people would recognise them by those names. Regardless of what you call them, astilbes are wonderful, easy to grow perennials that no garden should be without.

Patti Sharpe is a long-time resident of Great Village and actively involved in various organizations within her community. Send your news to her at