Native to the far east, these beautiful plants and their hybrids have revolutionized the perennial possibilites of moist, shaded American gardens. Astilbes are
companions of ferns and impatiens--they're some of the few flowers that make big color in full or partial shade.
These plume-flowered plants have ultra-handsome fern-like foliage, (usually dark glossy green) and stiff stems that always hold the elegant plumes aloft without any staking. Flower arrangers find the flower plumes are just as handsome in a vase as in a garden.
From tiny dwarfs to big draping hybrids, astilbes are all quite easy to grow, as long as their ground is not in the blazing sun and does not dry out for long. They must have plenty of moisture, so choose your locations carefully. If the soil is not loamy, add some peat moss or other moisture-retaining material. You’ll know after one growing season whether your plants are happy where you’ve put them. If not, think about moving them to a better spot before they weaken.
They need no more than the usual feeding, like most flowering perennials. For feeding perennial gardens, my favorite perennial expert, Frederick McGourty, recommends familiarizing yourself with standard perennial flower fertilizers, which are always labeled with three numbers in a sequence, such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10, or 10-10-10. These numbers on the bag refer to percentages of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, in that order. McGourty explains that the most important element here for flowering plants is the middle number, Phosphorus, so he recommends choosing a fertilizer with the middle number no lower than the other two.
Great companion plants include Japanese and Siberian iris, trilliums, ferns, hostas, cimicifuga, ligularia and of course, annual impatiens.
Thank you to Anonymous (not far from the Blarney Stone) for your comment! I've been very curious as to who keeps popping in from Cork! Feel free to drop me a line sometime.