Cooler Tour: September 17, 2018

There is something magical about the delicate flowers of Masterwort or Astrantia.
Properly describing the flowers requires botanical terms like inflorescence, bract, and umbel, which has an almost musical ring to it.
Astrantia major ‘Roma’ photographed in Garden Canadensis in Milton, Ontario
“Inflorescence” refers to how flowers are arranged on a stem or twig of a plant. An “umbel” is one such arrangement.
To get a visual picture of an “umbel” think of the rounded shape an umbrella. In an Astrantia flower, the short flower stalks (pedicels) at the centre of the flower spread out from a single point and are of equal length. This pattern or arrangement of pedicels is known as an umbel.
A “bract” is simply a modified or specialized leaf that is often found at the base of a flower. In the case of an Astrantia flower, there is a collar of bracts at the base of the umbel.
But you don’t have to know any of these fancy terms to appreciate just how lovely Astrantia flowers are.
Astrantia at the Dalhousie University- Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.
 
Many notations on growing Astrantia will tell you they will work in everything from full sun to full shade. That’s almost true, but in my opinion, it needs some qualifications.
The most important thing to remember about Astrantia is that it likes rich, moist soil. If you plant it in a sunny spot where the soil dries out quickly, your Astrantia will likely perish. With regard to the other extreme, I personally think that full-on shade is taking light conditions one step too far.
You are much more likely to have success in part-shade, if your soil gets a bit dry mid-summer. Even so, this plant will not survive extended periods of drought.
I have my tiny clumps of Astrantia flowers in part-shade. My garden gets very dry in late July-August, so I have to water them to make up for the lack of rainfall. I am writing this based on my own observations. If your experience is different, I’d love to hear.
Astrantia photographed last summer at the Dalhousie University- Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.
Some commonly available cultivars include:
Astrantia carniolica rubra has maroon-red flowers. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches).
Astrantia major: Greenish-white flowers with greenish bracts tinged with pink. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches).
Astrantia major ‘Lars’ has deep rosy-red flowers. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches).
Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ has red flowers and reddish stems. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches).
Astrantia major ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ has greenish-white flowers with a flush of pink. What is unique about this cultivar is the light green leaves splashed with buttery-cream. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches).
Astrantia major ‘Roma’

 

If you are starting your flowers from seed, you can sow the seed directly into the garden in the fall. In the spring, you have provide some cold stratification to get the seeds to germinate.
To propagate Astrantia by division, divide clumps in early spring.
Astrantia photographed last summer at Dalhousie University-Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.
 
My garden doesn’t present ideal conditions for growing Astrantia, but I think it is such a nice perennial I am willing to fuss over it a bit.
In dry mid-summer I’m quite happy to drag out the garden hose just to have these oh-so-pretty flowers.

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