Pincushions and charm


Above – Astrantia ‘Shaggy’

Since the 16th Century this handsome herbaceous plant with the most charming of flowers has graced our gardens. Over the centuries it has gathered various names such as ‘Melancholy Gentleman’, Masterwort and probably the most accurate in its description, ‘Hattie’s pincushion’ for that is exactly what the flowers of Astrantia remind you of, pincushions!

Astrantia major

Above – Astrantia major showing pincushion and ruff

The origins of this decorative plant lie in the copiced woodlands of the Balkans and sub-alpine meadows, giving a clue to its hardiness. I find them an easy plant to grow, providing you give them the ideal conditions. They like a moisture retaining soil that doesn’t dry out in the summer as they will wilt. Soil can be improved when planting by adding well rotted organic compost and in subsequent years mulching the surrounding soil.


Left – Astrantia ‘Shaggy’ Right – Astrantua major ‘claret’

They enjoy either a sunny situation or a dappled shade area. At home some of the white varieties are under the Cornus mas interplanted with hostas, ferns, and digitalis. The red
varieties do tend to fade when in shade to a rather disappointing pink, so reds as a rule are best in sun.

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Above – Astrantia ‘roma’

I find the mature clumps easy to divide with a sharp spade in late autumn. I cut away and remove the leaves in the winter, just leaving the white pointed tips revealed, ready to unfurl their leaves in the spring.

They appear so happy at home that by leaving them to seed I find they also self seed happily around the garden. These delicate flowers with their Elizabethan looking ruff and the tiny pin headed stamen last such a long time in the garden starting in late May here in Sussex and going on into September, so they are as good a bedfellow with roses and nepeta as they are with late summer perennials such as sedums and grasses such as molina and stipa.


Above – Astrantia ‘Roma’

They look as content in a small cottage garden as they do planted in swathes of prairie styled planting. The flowers which are carried on fine sturdy stems make a perfect cut flower for the house, or can be easily dried (before they have set seed) by hanging in clumps upside down in a dark dry place.

Here are a selection of my favourites

Best of the whites, Astrantia major ‘Shaggy’. The flowers are larger than most with a pale green base to the bracts with white tips and an open shaggy appearance about 60 cm high in

Best of the pinks, Astrantia major ‘Roma’. A wonderful strong rosy pink, one of the longest flowering varieties, June to September.

Best of the Reds, Astrantia major ‘Claret’ To me the most beautiful of the red flowers of strong raspberry shade with almost black tips, on blackcurrant coloured stems with dark
green leaves.

Where to buy – Hardys Cottage Garden Plants, Priory Lane Nursery, Freefolk Priors, Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7NJ 01256 896533.

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