In shades of white, pink, lavender and red, astibles (Astilbe) infuse shade gardens with breezy drifts of color. The flowers themselves are tiny, but clusters of them rise above attractive foliage on sturdy, upright plumes. They range in size from the diminutive, 8-inch (20-centimeter) high "Liliput" to the 5-foot (1.5-meter) tall Himalayan Astilbe (Astilbe rivularis) [source: Schmid]. Most astilbes have rich green, compound leaves reminiscent of ferns, but Astilbe simplicifolia has large, simple leaves that look more like ivy. The perennial plant dies back at the end of fall, but the panicles, or pyramid-shaped clusters of flowers that grow off branches, dry to brown and remain standing, adding textural, vertical interest to your winter garden. They also complement dried flower arrangements.
Astilbes like rich soil and ample mulch. They're sensitive to dry spells; watch for droopy plumes to know when they need supplemental water. Astilbes grow and slowly spread from underground rhizomes. Different varieties are hardy from zones 3-8, and they'll return to embellish your shady spots for many years.
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