Thursday, December 06, 2007

Astilbes in Vermont

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The thermometer reads minus 3.4 degrees right now as the sun pulls itself ever so slowly above the sugar maples and shouts good morning to us. I just came in from feeding the birds and the feeders went from motionless to full-of-activity in the turn of the bucket. If birds could smile, the lone mourning dove would have smiled as I added a heaping pile of cracked corn to the platform feeder. I see dozens of these most every day down the road a quarter of a mile. They are usually in the road eating sand or sitting on the power lines but they never make it here in quantities larger than five or six.

Karl the wonder dog is confused this morning as Gail went out the door at 6:30 for an autism conference in Burlington and I haven't left for work yet. He likes it best on weekends when he knows I'm staying home because he is almost always guaranteed a ride in the truck. Winter is good for him because there is snow to plow and he likes to ride along.

For a couple days now Gail has been going over her plant orders. I kept suggesting that she study the sales numbers on the astilbes and she finally succumbed to my boring repetitions and analyzed this summer's sales versus last year's. Surprise! The missing numbers mean astilbe sales set records and replenishment stock, new varieties and spring digging and splitting from large mother garden plants are all in order.

We have always liked astilbes but found them to be hard-sell plants during earlier years. When I planted a nice display for Gail about 4-5 years ago, things began to change. I dug up the old milk room part of the lower barn foundation garden and planted 30-something different astilbes which Gail really admires. As they matured, more and more people commented on lack of experience with them. Sales increased. During the past two years, the single line of about 60 different astilbes that I bordered one of our daylily nurseries with came to maturity. As clumps that measured 2-3-4-5 feet wide, the masses of bloom brought out fine comments and good purchases. Once again it pointed out that no matter how nice a one gallon potted plant is, if people aren't familiar with it, they're not going to purchase it. Here are examples of Vision in Pink, Moreheims Glory and Elizabeth.

Astilbes range in height from 8-10 inches to 5-6 feet tall. Here in Vermont that means there is good bloom from late June through mid to late September depending upon the varieties you plant, the location you choose and the care you provide. They are clearly zone 3 hardy so the cold is not their problem, severe drought is. We have them growing in full sun in places to show how well they do despite being billed as a shade plant. Their root mass should not be allowed to dry out so that implies planting in a soil mix that will retain moisture when rains are absent and you're too busy to drag out the hose.

If there is one difficult characteristic of astilbes, I'd have to say it's identifying them correctly. Basic colors are red, white, pink and purple and variations of these colors translate to hundreds of varieties. Proper identification takes me quite a while and I know I still makes mistakes when I'm in the garden and someone calls out from afar. We have a real good assortment here and on the website so if you're interested in a trying a good perennial, stop by or check out our site. If you get a chance to drive by our new nursery on Route 2 next year, we're developing a display garden that will parallel Route 2 and be visible from the highway. Most of our collection of astilbes will be represented there.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sun has warmed the air to 9.8 degrees and a small flock of evening grosbeaks have arrived for breakfast.

Gardening wishes,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener


Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

I love Astilbes. I don't have enough of them in my current garden.

In the shade garden I had in the East Village, 20-25 years ago, I had something like 15 different varieties. By selecting for earliest and latest bloom times, I had a four months of bloom from them.

George Africa said...

Hello xris;

20 years ago, 15 varieties was an impressive collection....actually it still is! It would be interesting to look at the hybrids that are no doubt growing around that collection now. The offspring from my first picture includes a lot of pinks but also some very quick growers with good scapes. I just never seem to have the time to separate them out and grow them on.