Thursday, September 1, 2011
Garden Fail/Garden Win - Part II
So, a week or so ago I posted about a spot in my front garden that I found perpetually troublesome. Heavy soil, strange light conditions and a steep slope wreaked havoc on the plants I had initially tried planting there...some Echinacea purpurea. While there is too much hot sun in the middle of the day for shade-lovers, there isn't enough to keep things like Echinacea from getting too tall and flopping. Last fall, after watching the poor Echinacea struggle all that summer, I decided to move them...I was tired of how pathetic they looked. I was left with a lingering question though, what to plant in the problem area???
After doing a little research, I decided to give Astrantias a try. I hadn't really seen them used around Portland much, but after seeing them repeatedly in books and magazines, I was very intrigued. I wasn't sure what to expect...they looked to dainty and fragile...would they really be able to survive in soil the consistency of potters clay? I waited until a local nursery discounted their stock last fall and snatched up 3 'Abbey Road'. I planted them right away, and a few weeks later, bought a trio of un-named Astrantias at the fall HPSO sale. Right at the end of our growing season, I bought a few more 'Abbey Road' from the same nursery. A week later, we got our first freeze. I didn't hold out much hope for them to return...especially the ones I had JUST planted a week before.
I was pleasantly surprised this spring when every single plant returned! I couldn't quite believe it. Here they are in April, forming their little crowns of foliage. I could already tell at this point that I'd be moving them around a bit...the spacing is a bit wonky, but that's what you get when you're try to squeeze plants in between full-grown plants in the fall!
Here's a view from on the porch, looking down at the garden. They seemed to take a while to get going in the spring, but grew rapidly once temps warmed up a bit.
Here's part of the patch, showing both the un-named variety (which I think is probably 'Alba') and 'Abbey Road' blooming. While 'Abbey Road' was about the size I expected from reading the tags it came with (about 2' tall and 18" wide) 'Alba' had much larger leaves and taller flower stems...I'm pretty sure it gets substantially bigger than 'Abbey Road' and will overwhelm them in a few years...so will probably get moved this fall.
Both 'Abbey Road' and 'Alba' bloomed from June until the end of August...and were absolutely beautiful...I could't have been happier. The three 'Alba' plants were just plugs when I planted them last fall...so only produced a few blooming stems each, but 'Abbey Road' put up dozens of blooming stems on each plant. The charming, papery blooms last quite a while, but aren't in-your-face showy...they have a subtle beauty.
This photo is a wider view and shows more of the whole patch...as you can see, the flower stalks of 'Alba' are far taller than the basal leaves, making me think the clump will eventually expand vertically and horizontally to support stems of such length. These taller stems did flop over a bit, but 'Abbey Road' was perfectly compact and has sailed through summer looking great!
The past few weeks, the flower bracts have faded a dried a bit as the plants set seed. While I sort of liked this phase, I cut off most of the seedheads to send the plants energy back into growth. Sometimes Astrantia will re-bloom in the fall as temps cool, but I'm not counting on it.
Here is the patch after I've cut off most of the seed heads. After less than a year, it's completely filled in the area...and I'm already planning where to move a few of them to keep it from getting congested as the clumps expand next season. I'm thinking of moving two of the larger 'Alba' clumps to another shady area that I have trouble with...and replacing them with the smaller, more compact 'Abbey Road' or 'Roma' when they (hopefully) go on sale again this fall!
I was a little afraid our (typically) warm, dry and windy summers would prove too stressful for Astrantias...but luckily they've been totally happy so far, granted, we've had a super-mild summer for the most part. A few of the lower leaves on the ones that get more sun are slightly yellowing, I wonder how they will fare in warmer summers. In front of the Astrantia patch is another problem area...which gets a bit more sun, but still not enough for full-sun plants. What do you think...should I plant more Astrantias there as well...or is there something else I could try???
Oh...and the 'Alba' are starting to bloom again this week :-)