Much of the shade in my landscape is provided by silver maples. These trees have ravenous roots that selfishly drink up the water Mother Nature provides leaving little for other plants. Thirsty prima donnas don’t have much of a chance, so I grow sturdy perennials that can adapt to drier conditions.
I love astilbes but had difficulty growing them until I tried Pumila, one of the smallest members of the Chinese astilbe family. The elegant, fern-like foliage of this little cutie spread quickly under a crabapple, boasting lavender spikes of flowers in summer.
While the roots of other astilbes demand to be kept moist or display their displeasure with brown foliage, Chinese astilbes will put up with drier conditions. If moisture is maintained, they can tolerate a great deal of sunshine. If you have had trouble growing astilbes, try some of these varieties.
The cultivars in the Visions series grow 18 to 24 inches tall and almost as wide. Visions features violet-red plumes, Visions in Red sports dark purple-red blooms, the flowers of Visions in Pink are lilac-pink, and Visions in White has, you guessed it, creamy white spikes of flowers.
Named for the wife of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Maggie Daley shows off gorgeous, deep rosy-pink plumes on stems over two feet tall. The robust cherry red flower spikes of Mighty Red Quinn reach an impressive four feet tall.
The flowers of astilbes are lovely in bouquets; cut stems when half of the flowers are open. They can also be dried. For best results, cut spikes when flowers have just opened, strip the leaves from each stem, and hang them upside down until they are dry.
When astilbes are finished flowering, flower spikes can be removed to improve the plant’s appearance, but I think the dried flower stalks are attractive and left unpruned, they also provide winter interest.
Don’t let a little dry shade keep you from growing these beautiful perennials. Plant Astilbe chinensis and garden with me!