Astrantia major

I have two favourite astrantias, A. major and A. maxima, and scarcely know which to put in first place. They are hardy perennials of the enchanting family Umbelliferae. They will grow in sun or light shade, but need a little permanent moisture, so if they are grown in sun, it should be in a cool, damp border.

Astrantia major, or masterwort, has been grown in Britain for centuries, a wholly delightful plant with deeply dis-sected leaves like those of hellebores, and branching stems of small posy flowers in white and green with a hint of pink. The posy consists of tiny greenand-white, pink-stalked flowers encircled by green bracts. The stems are 2 feet (60 cm) high and the plant blooms for many weeks from mid-summer, sometimes almost into winter. It seeds freely. There are various forms of the species of which I like best the form with variegated leaves, ‘Sunningdale Variegated’.

Astrantia maxima is a less vigorous plant, but more conspicuous because the posies are a vivid rose-pink with pink bracts which are acid green on the reverse, making a highly sophisticated combination of colours. It comes from damp meadows in the Caucasus, and needs more moisture than A, major.

Astrantias are plants for close observation, so do not let them get swamped by coarse or garish perennials. They look well with phlox, which like the same conditions, but there is a case for putting the undemanding A. major in large groups, planted 18 inches (45 cm) apart, among shrubs like Philadelphus which are somewhat bare at the base and offer space for a choice underplanting. As the shrub will take its full share of moisture, the astrantias may need mulching.

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