Happiness is a Melancholy Gentleman

I’m not sure when or why the name of ‘melancholy gentleman’ became attached to astrantias, but I assume whoever came up with the name was having a bad day. Perhaps it was raining heavily and he had a cold, or he arrived home to find the dinner was burnt and the wife had run off with the milkman!

I find they are useful, long-flowering, trouble free plants, bridging the gap between the late bulbs and the main herbaceous season. Astrantias need a moisture retentive but free draining soil, and part shade. The flowers start in late May or early June on stems up to three feet tall, continuing for several weeks. If the plant has a vice, it is one of being too prolific with its seedlings, but shearing the plants to the ground (and then keep them well watered) prevents too many offspring.

A good clump is more effective than a miserly grouping. The first of the three varieties I grow to flower is Astrantia major ‘Alba’, a variety with a good, clean white inflorescence.

Astrantia major 'Alba' - 2016

This is soon followed by A. ‘Roma’. Although the flowers of this variety are a rather muddy pink, the plant is a sterile hybrid and won’t set any seed, so it just keeps on flowering.

Astrantia 'Roma' - 2016

My third variety was A. m. ‘Claret’, but I discovered this is a catch-all name for seedlings of another variety, A. m. ‘Ruby Wedding’, so whether you get a good one is a bit hit and miss. My plant grew well but barely flowered, so after a few years I replaced it with A. ‘Hadspen Blood.’

Astrantia major 'Hadspen Blood' - 2016

Far from making me melancholy, astrantias lift my spirits, especially if flaming June is not living up to her name.


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