Purple Candles AstilbeAstilbe chinensis ‘Purpurkerze’
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Astilbe chinensis ‘Purpurkerze’
Outdoor Growing zone
Partial Sun, Shade
Most astilbe are a foot or two tall, but sometimes, perhaps in a larger bed, we want something taller and more statuesque. That’s the moment for the Purple Candles Astilbe. Flowering late in the season, after most of the other astilbe are over, this gorgeous plant sends up spires of flowers reaching 4 feet, deep burgundy stems and buds, erupting into glorious purple-pink columns. The stand above ferny foliage that grows about 2 feet tall, forming a substantial plant that really brings presence and structure to your shady beds. It thrives beside water and in damp soil, but unlike most other astilbe, this one is significantly more drought-resistant, and will grow in the sun in cooler zones. Plant it among hosta and tall ferns, with smaller astilbe and other shade-lovers in front. Very easy to grow and reliable, if it has sufficient moisture.
Grow the Purple Candles Astilbe in full sun if you live in cool zones, as it is more sun-tolerant than most other astilbe. Anywhere it will grow in afternoon shade and the light, dappled shade beneath deciduous trees, or in shadow zones, with shade and blue sky overhead. Does best in rich soil that is moist but well-drained, and also tolerates wet soil well. Grows in drier conditions than most other astilbe too, with some drought tolerance. Water new plants regularly until well-established. Pests, diseases, deer and rabbits all leave it alone, making this one of the easiest plants to grow. The spikes are strong and rarely need staking. Cut to the ground in late fall – that’s it, no more attention is needed.
If you think the only difference between the different astilbe is the color, think again. There is a less-common species called Chinese astilbe, which has a distinctive look and is more drought and sun tolerant than the others. It also gives us some of the most magnificent plants, both shorter and taller than typical astilbe. If you want some striking height in your shady beds, or perhaps in a spot that is just a little ‘too sunny’ for astilbe, then light up that spot with glowing candles – the Purple Candles Astilbe to be exact. Towering to 4 feet tall in good conditions, with foliage that is bolder rougher in texture, this striking plant is a superb specimen to bring variety to your shade garden. The tall foliage is striking when the plant isn’t blooming, and adds interest from spring to fall.
The Purple Candles Astilbe is a perennial plant that dies down each fall and resprouts, stronger and more vigorous, the next spring. It forms a thick woody root just below the surface of the soil, and from that spring long leaves almost 2 feet long, but they don’t look so big because they are divided into 15 or more small leaflets, each one oval, with jagged edges. These are dark green, often with bronzy tones, and unlike other astilbe, where the leaves are fairly smooth and glossy, these are thicker, more wrinkled, and with a slightly hairy, rough surface. The arching leaves rise to make a mound 2 feet tall, and have a distinctive and ‘different’ look.
Blooming is later than many other astilbe too, with flowers coming in July and even in August. These rise on tall stems to almost 4 feet tall in good conditions, topped with a fat bunch of side-stems that grow almost vertically, making a tight, dense column of color. Blooms are dark reddish-purple when they begin to open, becoming a column of brighter purple as they mature, and then after a few weeks turning the typical beige-brown of other astilbe.
The height and form of the Purple Candles Astilbe makes it perfect to create vertical accents in your shady beds – a hard thing to achieve with other shade plants that are mostly rounded or bushy. Grow it among other, smaller astilbe, or behind Hosta or among shade-loving shrubs.
Like other astilbe, the Purple Candles Astilbe is just as hardy, and is perfectly happy in zone 4 gardens. It also grows in warmer zones, and is more heat-resistant than most other astilbe varieties.
Plant the Purple Candles Astilbe in partial or full shade, just like other astilbe. However, this variety has slightly more tolerance of sun and drier soil, although it should be watered regularly until it is well established. This is especially noticeable in cool zones, where it will even grow in full sun if the soil is always moist, but in warmer zones it should be given at least afternoon shade. Light shade beneath open trees and shrubs is perfect. It will grow in almost any soil that isn’t dry, doing best in moist, rich soils. They can be acidic or mildly alkaline, and clay or heavy soils are fine too. Add plenty of organic material when planting, and use it as mulch too.
The Purple Candles Astilbe is generally ignored by deer and rabbits, and free of pest or disease attacks. Excessive dryness is the usual cause of problems, not disease. It is also very low maintenance and just needs cutting down to the ground in late fall, once flowering is over and the leaves are beginning to yellow. When starting to bloom, if you want to keep the vertical accent as strong as possible, place a thin bamboo stake behind the stem, pushing it well into the ground and cutting it a little shorter than the flower stem. Tie it to the stem in at least 2 places, and it will never flop. It just takes a few moments for perfection.
The Chinese astilbe, Astilbe chinensis, can be found along streams and the borders of woodlands, growing wild, in China, Japan and Korea. The main difference between it and the other species used – Astilbe japonica and Astilbe davidii – is that it is more resistant to sun and drier conditions. Not many varieties exist, but an old one is called ‘Superba’.
It is distinct from the more common Arendsii hybrid astilbe, which have higher water and shade requirements. Only a limited number of varieties have been bred from the Chinese astilbe, and the most common is a tall one with dark pink blooms called ‘Superba’. We don’t know much about the variety called ‘Purpurkerze’, which translates from German into ‘purple candle’, but it seems to have been registered as a new name in Europe around 2001. It looks like an improved version of ‘Superba’, but we don’t know any more about its origin.
Treat yourself to something different for your shade garden, with the Purple Candles Astilbe. This striking, late-blooming specimen will look perfect among your existing shade plants, and really be a highlight of your planting. Order now – this relatively rare variety is not often available, and will sell out fast.