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.

First Frost

First Frosty Morning

The weather forecast said there might be a frost on Saturday night but just in exposed rural areas….they were wrong! We awoke to a hard frost and the tell-tale signs of tender plants grimacing in the early morning mist. Gradually, as the sun rose and the mist cleared, I realised this was the day to start the annual clearance.

It is an inevitable part of gardening with annuals and tender perennials that, sooner or later, they need to be lifted and either potted up, stored or composted. Most people seem to think that makes a garden ‘high maintenance’ but I just see it as part of the programme. If you want a colourful scented garden throughout the year, it comes at a small price. However, the payback is lots of wonderful composting material!

Even after so many years, I am still reluctant to dispose of plants which are still flowering like Cosmos, Nicotianas,  China asters and bedding dahlias but if I wait I will just be clearing away a soggy mushy mess instead. So, out I went, wheelbarrow, border fork and spade in hand and had a really good day. The weather was warm under a cloudless sky.

Schizostylis coccinea

Schizostylis coccinea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I feel better for it, the borders look fresh and ready for the next chapter and I now have somewhere to plant out the 50 Alliums I bought at Malvern, the Echinaceas and rudbeckias bursting out of their 5 litre pots, the Hesperis matronalis, Sweet Williams and Foxgloves grown from seed, the Delphiniums and Penstemons bought as plugs, and the various perennials I have collected from plant sales but had nowhere to plant them. Heliopsis ‘Summer Nights’, Schizostylis coccinea, two bargain half price Phormiums, shrubby Salvias ‘Hot Lips’ and ‘Royal Bumble’, Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’ and last, but by no means least, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow is another day. Retirement has the benefit that I can spread tasks out a bit, they don’t all have to be done at the weekend, so now it is time to think, reflect, have a glass of wine and plan ahead. I might get the seed boxes out of the fridge and dream of next year’s promise, all those wonderful treats to come!