Introduction to Astilbes

Astilbes are hardy herbaceous perennials which grow from 25cm (10ins) high to over 90cm (3ft) according to the cultivar. They come in a range of flower colours in shades of pink, red, purple and white and flower from mid-June to the end of August with a few in September. They don’t suffer from frost damage and are very hardy. Astilbes are native to wet meadows and streamsides in Japan, China and Korea so lend themselves to growing by ponds or moist areas. However, they are quite suitable for any beds and borders provided a mulch or water is provided in very dry spells. A lot of the recently introduced dwarf forms are ideal in dry conditions, sunny or part shade areas.

Cultivation of Astilbes

Astilbes need to be divided regularly otherwise they lose their vigour and the centre of the plant dies out. This is easily done from Autumn to Spring, being best divided every 5 or 6 years by lifting the plant and splitting it in half or in quarters. Replant in well manured or fertilised ground. This does them the world of good as well as providing extra plants for your garden or to give away to friends. Astilbes have no diseases and are left alone by rabbits and deer. The only problem can be vine weevil but if they are regularly lifted these can be dealt with. Nematodes are a natural solution and are very effective when used in Spring. Very little work is needed with these plants apart from cutting the dead stems down in early  Spring and tidying around them. A mulch of compost or leaf-mould is beneficial for feeding and conserving moisture.

 

History of Astilbes

In the early 1900s only four species of Astilbe were grown and these all had white flowers. When the pink flowered Astilbe chinensis was discovered and exhibited at the RHS halls in Westminster, London, Georg Arends, a nurseryman in Germany came over to see it and acquired a flower which he took home and crossed with the four white species. He raised lots of seedlings and planted them out in his fields at the nursery. The next year when the seedlings started to flower he picked the best ones to name and eventually propagate and sell. Over the years he named many plants but they had to be different and unique. Several were named after German cities : ‘Mainz’,’ Bremen’, ‘Dusseldorf’ and ‘Koblenz’. Others were named after the women who worked at his nursery: ‘Lili Goos’, ‘Gertrud Brix’, ‘Martha Illing’ and ‘Anita Pfiefer’. Arends is probably responsible for introducing well over half of all cultivars that have been raised and named leading to a whole mix of colours, heights and shapes. Several other nurserymen have contributed to the wide range of astilbes we have today including several British nurseries. Holland is the main source of recent introductions where many new selections are being raised with colourful foliage of yellow and bronze.

 

Marwood Hill - Our Collection of Astilbes 

Started in 1990, Marwood Hill Garden has one of the largest collections in the world. We grow and sell many of the rare ones which are not available anywhere else at all. We have been able to collect many that were lost during the Second World War when nurseries were damaged due to bombing. With visits to Holland and Germany to seek out “lost” cultivars and with contacts in Latvia and Russia, our collection has grown to over 200 different species and cultivars. We grow the astilbes in three large beds between two lakes and by the stream but many are grown in drier borders. They are a colourful sight from the middle of June, through July and August with some into September.

 

Propagation of Astilbes 

Astilbes are very easy to propagate. In Autumn they are lifted and split into small portions and potted up in peat-free compost in 9cm pots and left outside for the Winter. In early Spring they quickly establish and by April can be potted into 2-litre pots or planted out in the garden.

 

Uses of Astilbes

Astilbes are very versatile with coppery coloured young foliage quite adaptable to be planted in most situations with a wide range of other plants. Low growing cultivars are ideal for the front of borders and the wide range of flower colour will blend into any colour palette. When the flowers are over the foliage and seed-heads are attractive during Autumn and Winter and provide a good food source for a wide variety of birds. In Europe, astilbes are often used as pot-plants in homes and conservatories. This is a very big industry in Holland which supplies most European countries as well as responding to a big market for cut flowers as astilbes will last in water for many days.

 

A new web site devoted to the National Collections of Astilbes has been set up here.

Buy Astilbes from our National Collection of Astilbes