People often ask what plants are suitable for a shady situation, by which they mean either the north side of a walk or house, or in the shadow cast by trees. There are so many plants that no one need despair.
A Joy of Gardening; 1958
Astilbe and the Romanovs, perhaps that will be my next book title. I did somewhat draft a love story last year that took place in wintertime Russia. For this piece however, we’re talking about a plant, not a flaxen haired blonde of Russian decent.
As I’ve mentioned before, my husband and I have had some trouble with our front yard. Everything we planted there seemed to die or resist flowering. We face north and I did despair thinking I would have to stick to boring old hedges. One nurseryman told me ‘sorry there is no hope. You can only plant boxwoods and such’. But Sir, I need flowers and color!
It now strikes me odd that a nurseryman would say such a thing, they are indeed many beautiful plants that will tolerate shade. When I ripped out the holly bushes and planted them elsewhere I replaced them with Astilbe or False Spiraea.
They are flowering now, and have already grown rapidly. The variety I choose are the Chinese Astilbe or Purple Candle. I’m told they will grow quite large. I am hoping they spread out so I gave them room to do so. Perennials are known to sleep, creep, and leap in three years time, but this Astilbe has grown very much just in the two months I’ve had it. I’m very excited to see what it does in three years.
The one getting the most shade is doing the best, surprisingly. Flowers need sun in order to bloom and they get just enough here I suppose – less than four hours.
It tickles me that the astilbe will let you know immediately if it needs water. The little ends of its flower spikes will droop in the slightest drought. So I have to keep an eye on them and water them constantly.
Their flowering is almost done, but the bees and other flying creatures have enjoyed them. It seems they turn colors as the blooms progress and die. Going from a bright, almost florescent purple, to a faded purple with a green underlay; very pretty.
As I observed their faded blooms the other day, the Romanov family came to mind. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the romantic nature of the faded purple that reminds me of this faded Royal family of Russia. I find their history quite interesting, but perhaps I was reminded of them because their reign looked solid and eternal just as my astilbe blooms, then suddenly they are gone with a flash of light and with an exhaustion of energy. So sudden it seems that my astilbe blooms should be dying; their blooms look so permanent and stable.
I do suggest, by the way, reading some Russian history. Rasputin, and the end of the Romanovs, for example was an interesting chapter.
Anyway, they do have a fragrance. It is sweet like clover. I’m sure you could cut a flower spike, but why do this when their spikes are a bit sparse, unless of course your collection is large. I can imagine they would droop in water anyway. Rather, I wonder if they would make a pretty dried flower? I’ve read in this great book Making the Most of Shade by Larry Hodgson, that the author will not cut his spikes off in Fall. Instead, he lets them remain unless he wants to use them in a dried arrangement. He says, “They turn brown it’s true, but still add interest right into winter.” He also suggests leaving the flower spikes, and they will collapse on their own just in time for Spring.
They have many benefits, beside being interesting to look at, they are also deer and bunny resistant. There are many different varieties from which to choose, and they come in an array of colors and sizes. I suggest planting a few in a dark unused corner and see how they do, you really would thank yourself in three years time.