On visiting a lovely cottage garden of friends last year, I stumbled over a colourful display of Asters and a few weeks ago I planted some of them myself to enjoy their daisy-shaped flower heads during fall.
Asters are lovely perennials which can add colour to your border well into October. Gertrude Jekyll was mad about them and she planned even two borders at her garden at Munstead Wood were these Asters play the leading role. Her September border was located in the middle of her kitchen garden and was backed at each side by a Hornbeam hedge. “ This border is mainly for the earlier Michaelmas daisies; those that bloom in the first three weeks of the month”, as she wrote in her bestseller from 1908: Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden.
Her borders for the October flowering asters, so perfectly portrayed by artists like Helen Allingham and George Elgood, were situated more closely to her house. The care and preparation for the mass display in Autumn must be tremendous. Large asters at the back of the border had to be staked and by careful pruning, her gardeners could manipulate flowering time and height. Asters are especially suited for a cool colour scheme and Jekyll planted an edge of grey-leaved pinks to enhance this effect.
Here in Viller the Garden we planted some varieties in late summer and after a good start, they are already showing bunches of flowers. I am especially fond of the asters with tiny flowers and a bushy appearance. Aster lateriflorus ‘Coombe Fishacre’ is one of them. She shows her little pink flowers already in September. Aster vimineus ‘Lovely’ with its mauve coloured flowers is also well-branched but stays below 2 feet and is a good plant to place in front of your border.
I tried to avoid staking and there are a few new breeds with good sturdy stems like Aster ‘Treffpunkt’ which is probably a hybrid between an unknown Aster Novi Belgii and Aster cordifolius ‘Blue Heaven’. Its luminous blue-purple colour is very special and is not only attracting the attention of visitors but also of bees and other insects.
“Its luminous blue-purple colour is very special…”
If you want more height and if you are looking for a plant for the backside of your border, an Aster ericoides ‘Pink Spray’ could be the right choice. It has small pink flowers and starts flowering in the second half of August.
Most Asters need a sunny place but Aster divaricatus originates from the woodlands of North America and tolerates more shade and accepts more dryer soil conditions. I appreciate its ground covering qualities and its mass of tiny white flowers on almost black twigs which makes it a very versatile plant.
Although Asters are Autumn plants par excellence there are a few asters with a very long flowering period and which open their first flowers in July. Aster x frikartii ‘ Monch’ is one of them and its lanky growth can be improved by deadheading by one-half at the end of May or early June in order to improve its habit. Aster ageratoides adustus ‘Nanus’ even starts flowering in June but most plant lovers know this plant as Kalimeris incisa ‘Nana Blue’.
Paul and Helen Picton are real Aster connoisseurs and there famous Picton Garden in Worcestershire (UK) shows over 400 varieties. In the famous series of Plant Lovers Guides, they wrote a beautifully illustrated book on Asters which I can highly recommend to you.