We decided to see some Asters before the weather closed in (which it did today!) and so we visited The Picton Garden in Malvern which holds the National Collection on a bright sunny day a few weeks ago, prompted by a visiting speaker to our horticultural society, Marina Christopher, an excellent author, plantswoman and speaker. We met Helen Picton who was very helpful and interested to hear that we may have acquired a new variety in the Plant Heritage exchange scheme this year. Aster ‘Claudia’ came to us with a rather anonymous label and, although recognised by the RHS, no suppliers are listed in the Plant Finder. I sent a photo to Helen and she believes it may be a small flowered pringlei hybrid and worthy of inclusion in the Collection. I will divide the plant in spring and supply her with some propagation material.
Asters are combined with Kniphofias and Rudbeckias, tall perennial grasses and sunflowers to provide complimentary colour and height. The colour range of asters is rather limited to the blue/white/pink range so the bright yellows and oranges interspersed with the pastel shades of the asters provide punctuation and separation in the borders.
I prefer the tall novae-angliae or New England asters which are mildew resistant but require staking, compared to the smaller mounded novi-belgii or New York varieties.
The other problem with the taller novae-angiae varieties is the nasty habit of dropping their lower leaves just before they flower, leaving bare stems with brown, shrivelled and dead looking leaves. However, if they are part of a mixed border and placed behind other plants, this is not noticed so much. The shorter novi-belgii types are more prone to mildew but are usually stocky and self supporting.
They are not called Michaelmas Daisies for nothing, and around 29 September is usually the best time to see them at their best. We certainly enjoyed our visit and will go back a little earlier next year. Naturally, I didn’t come away empty handed and have now added the tall and beautiful violet-purple Aster ‘Helen Picton’ to my little collection.
Although they only put in a brief appearance for a month or so, Asters provide a welcome blast of colour just as the garden is beginning to turn brown and go to sleep. If they are strategically placed along with hardy Chrysanthemums, perennial Rudbeckias, tall grasses, late flowering Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and even tall fiery red and orange Dahlias and Kniphofia rooperi, they will prolong colour and interest until the end of October.