Friday, March 2, 2012

A Garden Alphabet: A is for Astilbe

Astilbe, False Spirea 'Rhythm and Beat'

Have you ever made a clean getaway from a store or nursery with impossibly good deal?

Very late in last year's gardening season, hubby and I happened into a local Home Depot where there was a large tiered display of perennials marked with a huge sign: 

One Dollar! Seriously! Sometimes fall clearance plants at these big box store garden centres can be pretty bedraggled after a summer of intermittent care, but these 2 gallon perennials looked great. Surely some salesclerk had made a mistake with the sign.

I grabbed a shopping cart and frantically started loading it up. Let's see: 4 euonymus, 3 pink hellebores, 2 daylilies, a couple of fancy heuchera, 2 pink astible...

"Woo, woo!", said my panic stricken hubby pointing to our mid-sized Toyota with 3 dogs already filling up the back seat, "Where do you imagine we are going to fit all those plant pots?"

"But how can I pass on such an amazing deal?", I replied pouting a little, "They'll probably be gone if we come back later."

"Fine", he sighed, a poor man long ago resigned to his wife's gardening obsession, "You go pay and I'll shift a few things around in the trunk."

"The sign in the garden centre says these are a dollar.", I insisted defensively to the sales clerk, as I placed the plants up on checkout line.

Twenty dollars later, I wheeled a packed shopping cart out of the store, feeling kind-of like that crazy lady in the Ikea commercial, who looks with disbelief at her sales receipt, and then anxious to make a clean getaway, yells to her husband waiting in the parking lot to "Start the car!" 

Amongst my purchases is the Astilbe that you see at the top of this post. 

When it comes to Astilbe (Common names: False Spirea, Meadowsweet), I can tell you best what not to do. Don't plant them in dry shade! Been there, done that! 

I have a fair collection of Astilbe and by mid-summer, when rainwater is scarce, they are looking pretty worse for ware. To keep them going, I have to water them faithfully. Astilbe actually prefer consistently moist, rich soil. 

They are a long-lived perennial that have lovely fern-like foliage (seen along the bottom of this picture). Most varieties have tall, stiff stalks of feathery-soft flowers that come in shades of white, pink and red. There are also varieties whose plume of tiny flowers curves downward. ( See Red, White and Pink Ostrich Plume Astilbe here at Vessey's Seeds.)

I have always thought of them as a half-shade plant, but this summer I saw them flourishing in a fairly sunny spot. In fact, the plants had far more flowers than mine ever do in half-shade and shade.

That leads me to conclude that good, rich soil and sufficient water are the most crucial factors in enjoying good success with Astilbe plants. 

Do you concur? What's your experience?

For fun, I will be running through a garden alphabet on Fridays in the weeks to come. Next Friday is B. No idea what I will do for Z , but thankfully that is a long way off!

Have yourself a great weekend!


  1. Each time I read one of your posts I find myself jotting down notes to see if what is featured will do well in our garden!

  2. Oh. My. Gosh. You bought hellebores for a dollar? The home depot in my area never has anything other than some very dull hostas and impatiens, even at the beginning of the season. wow, deal of the year there. That bright pink astilbe at the beginning of your post is stunning! I love astilbe too and have definitely had them shrivel in too dry of a soil. My favorite of the ones I have so far is 'Bressingham Beauty'. Also tried the 'Visions' series but they are too small and unimpressive looking for me.

  3. I have had the same experience Jennifer. I love astilbe but we have had some scorchers the past few years and they do not like the heat, here today, dried up tomorrow. Even on the north side of my house if it gets in the 90's they are gone quickly.


  4. Jennifer, I can't believe the remarkable deals you got! I have a few astilbe plants and they seem to thrive on neglect, thank goodness. As for "z", perhaps zinnias?

  5. I do concur on the need for rich wet soil. In fact, astilbes are heavy feeders, and need some fertilizer even when they are in the best soil. I took two sad specimens from my sister's garden where they were languishing in sand (not just dry soil, but sand!!) and got no water and looked awful. With no hope for survival I put them in a damp half-shady spot in my garden and fed them, and .... wow. They now look like your gorgeous photos.

    Water, compost and some extra food, and astilbes will shine. What great end of season bargains you scored!

  6. Jennifer your post was gorgeous. Overhere a helleborus costs about 10 times as much you've paid for it. For the letter Z I would go to a bulb called Zephyrantes. She has the most gorgeous flowers.
    Have a lovely weekend

  7. My goodness what a haul!!! I have had mixed success with Astilbe. It was in drier than I thought areas, so I moved it. Now I am thinking it might be in too much shade. Had the perfect spot in VA.
    Your top photo of the Astilbe is magnificent.

  8. Z is for zinnias - not perennial I know, but nevertheless.

    "Start the car" Start the car - I bought some terrific echinacea last year for $2 at Walmart (I know, I know)

  9. I grow my Astilbes in permanently wet soil,(over an underground stream)and they have been fine, the border is also shady, yours were a super price though, lucky you! How about Zantedeschia, another plant that likes wet soil!

  10. Hey I can't blame you for not passing up such a good deal and oh my look how beautiful they turned out.

  11. That last photo is just breathtaking I love it, it looks so pretty

  12. Oh so lucky!! and such gorgeous plants. I can't go near garden centres, I have no will power!!!

  13. Fantastic details in these images. From what I see, I would have purchased them also.

  14. I agree, they really do prefer the right conditions. I use them in design often, but really don't have them here. Your photos are lovely. And how could you pass up that price?

  15. I've found the same thing with astilbes Jennifer. When I had a shade garden I bought all sorts of these only to find they didn't bloom much. Moving to a sunnier position they did much better but need to be consistently watered. I laughed out loud over the Ikea commercial, can just picture you wheeling your cart out of that store as quick as could be. I had a similar experience where I bought a sale priced clematis for $2.50 (a fantastic deal at that!) and then they marked it down 50% at the till. Utter shock and absolutely thrilled at the same time.

  16. I used to be able to get those kinds of deals when we lived in PA too. They are fun! I've tried Astilbe but they fade down to nothing in our long hot summers in NC.

  17. I once worked for a big box store similar to Home Depot that did not survive the competition. You wouldn't believe what we would sell things for in the fall to make room for Christmas trees, and you really wouldn't believe how many perfectly good plants were thrown in the trash compactor. Horticultural crimes were committed.

  18. OMG ! Jennifer ! ... I would have been the same way if I saw such a sale .. the closest I came to that kind of heaven were clematis for $2.50 at a Loblaws end of season sale and I only ended up with 3 (because I didn't have a cart and some other gardeners were getting rather vicious ?!)
    That was a couple of years ago and even though i have little room for new plants I can't help but haunt the centers at end of season just for one more glorious hit like that .. so, I know exactly how you felt girl !
    Congratulations on that fantastic hit !
    I love astilbe .. and I have found the same as you have . they can take a lot more sun that is thought. I love the ostrich ones with their elegant bend forward .. they look beautiful even in winter with that pose !
    I am so that woman "START the car !!" .. John and I laugh all the time when we see that commercial because I have literally screamed that once I hit the car ? LOL .. too funny .. we NEED humour like that in our lives : )
    Ah ... so you are an "only" parent too .. it does make us think doesn't it.
    This was a fun post .. you made me laugh a lot Jennifer .. thanks !
    Joy : )

  19. Hooray for you!! I've had luck with the same sale at Home Depot and Lowe's. I once came home with 50 plants, mostly daylilies, that I used to help create a garden when I lived in NY. I love astilbe but gave up growing them since I don't have enough moisture. I figure the $1 plants balance out the more expensive ones. At least that's what I tell myself. :o) For Z, I grow a wonderful native plant zizia aptera, commonly called Golden Alexander. Another native plant for my area is zenobia.

  20. What a bargain indeed, each of these plants would cost about five pounds each, what's that about eleven dollars or so. Astilbes one of our favourite plants and they look fabulous with Hostas. I have always found they do best in partial shade where the soil doesn't dry out. I seem to recall they did quite well in a sunny spot, but of course that is where they are more likely to dry out.

  21. I can totally relate to your feeling "like the crazy lady from the IKEA commercial"! lol Great deal and you made great choices. I absolutely love astilbe. I have some in a low shady area of the garden that gets lots of run off and they absolutely love it.

    Your pics are gorgeous too! :)

  22. Hard to pass up a great plant deal like that! I would have put the dogs on my lap if necessary to make room for more plants:) I love astilbe; yours are just beautiful and make me want to plant more. But I haven't had a lot of luck with mine for the very reason you mention--mine are planted in dry shade. I promise myself every spring that I will faithfully water them during the hot days of summer, but invariably I lose my motivation. Mine also don't bloom that well--maybe they could use more sun.

    I participated in a similar meme a few years ago; this sounds like fun. Actually Z would be pretty easy since zinnias are one of my favorite annuals. But X will be tricky!

  23. I agree that astilbe needs very good care. Looking at your photos...I am looking forward to seeing them in a couple of months. And maybe I will add some more.

  24. They are all so beautiful Jennifer. I love astilbe in my garden beds. Yours looks so lovely with your heuchera. A wonderful "A".

  25. What a bargain, indeed. They are all so beautiful, Jennifer! :)


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