These graceful plants combine showy flowers and handsome, fernlike foliage. Small blossoms in white, pink, peach, rose, red, or purple appear in airy, feathery plumes held by thin, wiry stems ranging in length from 6 in. to 3 ft. or more. Most grow 23 ft. wide.
Astilbes are the mainstay of shady borders in the Upper and Middle South but can take some sun in the Upper South if given plenty of water. Combine with columbine (Aquilegia), meadow rue (Thalictrum), hosta, and epimedium in shady borders, or with peonies (Paeonia), delphinium, and irises in sunnier spots. Effective at the edge of ponds, along shady paths, in mass plantings, and in pots. Seldom browsed by deer.
All astilbes need moist, well- drained soil with ample organic matter. Cut off faded flower stems. Divide clumps every 4 to 5 years in autumn or in early spring.
Growing astilbes in the Lower South is challenging, to say the least. Give them rich, well-drained soil, full shade, and plenty of water. If they dry out in summer, the party's over.
A. xarendsii. Most astilbes sold belong to this hybrid group or are sold as such. Parentage is complex, but plants often have A. japonica, A. chinensis, and/or A. thunbergii in their ancestry. The plants differ chiefly in minor botanical details. Here are some of the many selections in use. Bloom times run from late spring for the early types to late summer for the late-flowering sorts.
'Amethyst'. Late. Lavender, 34 ft.
'Beauty of Ernst' (Color Flash). Late season, 1 ft. tall. Pink flowers. Colorful fall foliage.
'Bressingham Beauty'. Late midseason. Drooping pink clusters, 3 ft.
'Bridal Veil' ('Brautschleier'). Midseason to late. Full white plumes, 3 ft.
'Deutschland'. Early. White, 1 12 ft.
'Erica'. Midseason. Slender pink plumes, 23 ft.
'Fanal'. Early. Blood red flowers, bronzy foliage, 112212 ft.
'Ostrich Plume' ('Straussenfeder'). Midseason to late. Drooping pink clusters, 3312 ft. Heat tolerant.
'Peach Blossom'. Midseason. Light salmon-pink, 2 ft.
'Red Sentinel'. Midseason. Bright red, 212 ft.
'Rheinland'. Early. Deep pink, 2212 ft.
'White Gloria' ('Weisse Gloria'). Early to midseason. Creamy white, 2 ft.
A. chinensis. CHINESE ASTILBE. Resembles the A. xarendsii hybrids but generally blooms in late summer, grows taller, and tolerates dryness a little better. Varieties and selections include the following:
'Visions'. Upright-growing dwarf to 15 in. high, with raspberry-pink plumes above bronzy green leaves. Blooms a little earlier than other A. chinensis selections.
A. c. davidii. Late blooming, with dense, narrow, pink plumes 3 ft. tall. Pink-flowered 'Finale' grows only 1820 in. tall.
A. c. pumila. Dwarf form with low mats of leaves topped by lilac-pink flower clusters that rise 1215 in. high.
A. c. taquetii 'Superba'. Bright pinkish purple flowers in spikelike clusters 45 ft. tall. 'Purple Candles' is deeper purple, slightly shorter.
A. simplicifolia. JAPANESE ASTILBE. Grows to 16 in., with leaves merely cut or lobed instead of divided into leaflets. Known for its selections. Summer-blooming 'Sprite', the best known, is a low, compact plant with abundant pink, drooping, 1-ft. spires above bronze-tinted foliage. 'Hennie Graafland' is similar but grows a few inches taller and blooms somewhat earlier. 'Key Largo' bears rasp- berry midsummer flowers at 1 ft. high. 'Moulin Rouge' has bright magenta flowers on 6-in. stems in midsummer.