(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2008.)
Astilbes (pronounced a-STIL-bee) are an underutilized and underappreciated perennial perfect for any moist and/or shady spot. Astilbe can actually handle afternoon sun so long as their feet remain damp. This makes them perfect pond plantings and excellent for those "in between" sun and shade spots. Astilbe is also known as False Goat's Beard or False Spirea. Astilbes are some of the first plants to peek through the soil in Spring to grow fast and vigorous, filling in very quickly. The popular cultivar 'Visions' is pictured to the right.
Though all Astilbe look fairly similar, cultivars tend to differ in several categories:
Color Almost without exception, Astilbes fall somewhere in the range from white to deep plum; This includes light pink, peach, lavender, magenta, and crimson. Astilbe tend to look best when planted in groupings, since the bloom colors are all in the same color family and complement each other nicely.
Height If you can imagine, Astilbes can be as small as 10 inches tall such as 'Perkeo' and as tall as 4 feet like 'Purple Candles'. With such a range, this is a very versatile plant for many spots in your garden. If you wanted to group Astilbe, finding varieties of varying height would be easy in order to make a stair-step look.
Foliage Astilbe foliage is generally deeply cut, though sometimes it is almost as frothy and ferny as its blooms. Foliage can range from dark hunter green to blue-green to chartreuse. Even when Astilbe are not producing their show-stopping plumes, the foliage can hold its own in the garden.
Habit Generally the foliage of Astilbe is bushy, but the plumes of flowers can vary greatly in their growth habit. Some are arching and move with the slightest breeze, others are so upright they appear to be saluting the sun, yet others are more relaxed and less uniform.
Growing Conditions While most Astilbes prefer moist soil and shade, some can take heat and direct sunlight better than others. Cultivars such as 'Diamant' and 'Pink Lightning' need a good amount of shade and water to flourish, while cultivars like 'Purple Lance' are somewhat drought tolerant once established. There are also somecultivars such as 'Deutschland,' 'Amethyst,' and 'Rheinland' which can be grown in full sun as long as they have ample moisture. A little bit of experimentation with the environment in which you grow Astilbe might result in you finding many different areas to grow Astilbe that you would never guess.
Here are several of the beautiful cultivars of Astilbe. Clicking on each photograph will take you to the Plant Files entry of each one.
Astilbe can be found at specialized local gardening centers, online, and on occasion at the big box stores. If you choose to grow Astilbe in your garden, you will surely love it for its grace and variability.
This article was originally published on 5/28-2010 Please note that author s of previously published material may not be available to answer questions in a timely manner.
Photo Credits:2wards- Etna kooger-Finale Tyke- Purple Candles AltonNH-Visions in Red Planter64- Visions Hczone6- Peach Blossom Sanannie- Perkeo and Lollypop KevinMc79-Rheinland
Todd_Boland-Amethyst, Fanal,and Deutschland Kniphofia- Pink Lightning