This delicate astrantia is perfect for naturalising in areas of dappled shade. Pale greenish-white, pincushion-like flowers surrounded by a ruff of greenish white bracts are produced from June to October on branching stems up to 60cm (2ft) high. The leaves are palmate, glossy green and form vigorous mounds.
The overall flower size is approximately 4cm (1½ in) across when the plant reaches full maturity. The bracts are a little longer than the centre flowers but the whole flower remains cup shade.
After pollination each seed is suspended, quivering, on its own hair-fine stem. The papery bracts remain presentable for months, rustling in every breeze.
Astrantia does best in a moist soil and will make good ground cover if planted as a group. It works equally well in a woodland edge or in a mixed border, shaded by shrubs and deciduous trees. Plant with your Hostas for added slug protection, they do not like Astrantias so ideal companion plants and a more organic method of controlling slugs.
Sowing: Sow in autumn to spring
Astrantia seeds need a period of moisture and cold after harvest before they will germinate-usually this is necessary to either allow the embryo to mature or to break dormancy. This period can be artificially stimulated by placing the moistened seed in a refrigerator for a certain period of time (usually 3 to 5 weeks at around 4°C / 39°F). With tiny seeds it is best to sow them on moistened compost, seal the container in a polythene bag and leave everything in the refrigerator for the recommended period.
Light also seems to be beneficial after prechilling and so pre-chilled seeds should have only the lightest covering of compost over them, if any is required, and the seed trays etc. should be in the light and not covered with brown paper etc. If the seed fails to germinate leave the trays outside as the cold will break their dormancy. Move them to a warm place at the first sign of primary leaves.
After 3 to 5 weeks, prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays and move to 7°C (45°F) to grow on. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out.
A resilient plant that will grow well in full sun, clay and exposed to all the elements, but its ideal choice would include some shade and reliably moist but drained soil.
When planting in sunnier positions it is particularly important to add plenty of humus. Mulching with the same material will conserve moisture and help suppress weeds. Water copiously in dry weather especially if plants are only recently established. It will tolerate full sun as long as roots are kept moist.
Cut down the first flower stems for another good display from late summer going into autumn. Cut off the old flower stems and foliage when the plant starts to die back in late autumn. Self-sown seedlings often appear around the parent plant which can be transplanted to another part of the garden or given to friends.
Plants that aren't flowering freely can be divided in the spring. Divide the root ball into small clusters and replant in soil enriched with compost, and give a sprinkling of general fertiliser. They may take a little time to recover since they don’t like having their roots disturbed.
Cottage/Informal, Cut Flowers / Flower Arranging, Beds and borders. Shaded Gardens.
Astrantias are much prized by flower arrangers and gardeners alike. Cut under water with a sharp knife and remove all leaves that will be under the water line. Hydrate in warm water for a minimum of two hours before storage or usage. Use commercial floral preservative / food. These flowers should be kept out of strong sunlight and if cared for correctly will have a vase life of two weeks.
They make excellent dried flowers - cut the stems before the seed sets, then turn the flowers upside down to dry in a cool, airy place.
Astrantia major is a European native. It has been cultivated here since the 16th century and reached America 100 years later.
Part of the family Apiaceae, the earlier name of Umbelliferae derives from the inflorescence being generally in the form of a compound "umbel", and has the same root as the word "umbrella". Astrantia bears little resemblance to a typical umbel. Instead of a flat plate-like head, its flowers are held on fine stems radiating from a central point and a ruff of bracts protects them and their seeds. It is easy to see where the pin-cushion analogy comes from.
The name Astrantia is derived from the Latin astrum ’star’, referring to the star shaped flower umbels.
Major is derived from the Latin meaning greater.
The word 'alba' refers to the white colour of the flowers. It derives from the Latin word album for a ‘writing tablet’ now used to mean ‘white’ in reference to the tablets historically being white.
Astrantia major has a long association with horticulture and herbalism. The wealth of vernacular names - Melancholy Gentleman, Masterwort and Hattie's pincushion among them - show the fondness in which it is held.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25 Seeds Family Apiaceae Genus Astrantia Species major Cultivar Alba Common Name Masterwort, Melancholy Gentleman, Hatties Pincusion Other Common Names Melancholy Gentleman, Hatties Pincusion Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White in June to August Height 60 to 75cm (24 to 30in) Spread 30 to 60cm (12 to 24in) Position Sun to Partial Shade Aspect South, East, West Soil Fertile, moist, preferably humus rich Time to Sow Sow in autumn to spring Germination 30 to 180 days dependent on the time of year planted.