Autumn Asters

007We 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. 043                                                                    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.  

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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.022

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 Picton Garden

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.037

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.

Aster 'Forncett Flourish'

Aster ‘Forncett Flourish’

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.

What’s Not To Like?

033A garden designer giving a talk at our Plant Heritage meeting on Saturday told us that some of her clients simply refuse to have anything yellow in their gardens. I have mentioned this before and I am still puzzled as to why some garden owners dislike the colour yellow. Is it because it is brash or simply too strong a colour? It would certainly not work in a garden filled with pastels and muted tones.

This Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ makes me smile every time I pass it and Bidens aurea ‘Hannay’s Lemon Drop’ does the same.'Orange Allouise'

This Chrysanthemum, ‘Orange Allouise’ is rather more yellow than orange and for some reason always reminds me of dripping melted butter!022

Surely, no garden would be complete without at least one Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’?

Looking at my garden today and looking back over the year, I realise that it is full of yellow, red and orange. Strong, bright colours which bring my garden to life, even on a dull day. Perhaps it’s all about the gardener and not the garden!

Mellow Yellow

Helianthus ‘Miss Mellish’ AGM

The perennial sunflower, Helianthus, is one of my favourite late summer plants and they are just so cheerful! How can you not smile when you look at this picture!

The three Helianthus most commonly offered are ‘Lemon Queen’ a big, clump forming brute of a plant which runs riot in rich soil; ‘Monarch’ an enormous badly behaved double; and my favourite, ‘Miss Mellish’, still a rampant thug but such a pretty lady! Other varieties include ‘Capenoch Star’ AGM and ‘Carine’ which is similar to ‘Lemon Queen’ but slightly shorter. Helianthus is a good plant for poor dry soils and, as can be seen from this picture, happily grows even in the dessicated soil beneath a conifer hedge. It really is a reliable star performer.

Helianthus maximilianii

There are several less common Helianthus cultivars worth seeking out from specialist nurseries such as the tall ‘Maximilianii’ generally with fewer flowers and apparently a prolific self seeder;  H.  salicifolius with willow-like feathery foliage and chocolate brown centred flowers which love a sunny position at the back of a dry border, and the smaller, better behaved dwarf variety ‘Happy Days’ for a moist, rich soil in the middle of the herbaceous border.

Of course, the most common  perennial sunflower  relative is probably the Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, which is better known for it’s edible tubers than it’s flowers but is a perennial sunflower nevertheless. Its comparatively small and insignificant yellow flowers emerge when the plant is at it’s tallest, sometimes over 8 feet, and are often difficult to see.

If you want tall reliable colour in late summer and don’t mind a bit of yellow, these prairie daisies are hard to beat. It is the ideal plant to colonise a difficult or neglected area of poor soil or to hide an ugly shed providing height for screening, dark green foliage from mid spring and late summer colour until the first frosts.