Astelia

With the best of autumn behind and winter’s frosty promise ahead, it’s easy to assume that there’s nothing left in the garden to entertain. However, New Zealand boasts a plethora of evergreen specimens that continue to perform even when getting out of bed becomes a struggle. The only problem with a mass of evergreen plants is that they can be an unexciting mass of green. To overcome this, green can be broken up with different colours of foliage.

A prime example is Astelia chathamica, with robust silver spear shaped leaves that arch gracefully, making a statement in the right situation. It’s leaves are quite stout at 10cm wide, growing to 2m long, but the plant height remains at 1.2m due to its arching habit.

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The silver leaves on the Astelia are the main feature so to keep them looking their best they need a site that is sheltered from strong winds and strong frosts which can damage the leaves. Astelia also prefer a site in part or full shade and a site that may remain free from snow. Astelia hate excess moisture caused by snow or poor drainage, which causes the leaves to rot, but also do not like to be in dry soil so will require a mulch. Astelia naturally inhabit forested areas with peaty soils that are constantly moist.

Astelia chathamica fill a special role in the garden, one in which it will light up a shady space. Pair Astelia with darker leaved plants like the purple Heucheras or black mondo grass. They will enjoy being surrounded by other plants which will help create the mulch that they enjoy. They would even tolerate a sunny courtyard as long as enough moisture was available. Another place they will thrive is a constantly moist not too cold rock wall.

Endemic to the Chatham Islands they have till 2009 been nationally endangered. There are many other species of Astelia that are not threatened and offer different colourings. The Astelia fragrans has smaller olive-green leaves, Astelia nervosa ‘Westland’ has very attractive silvery red foliage. Astelia nervosa is also silver leaved and also known as the mountain Astelia. It has thinner leaves and not quite as stunning as the chathamica.