Asters are so much more than just the mainstay of the autumn colour. No doubt they do provide that last hurrah before winter sets in with their glowing pinks, reds and blues, but there are also fantastic earlier blooming types for the border in late Summer and one or two varieties that perform well in shade.
Recently the botanists have laid about Aster with a vengeance and several varieties can now be found in the rather attractively named Eurybia and Symphyothrichon. Anyone who writes Symphyotrichon novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’ on one 4 inch label is deserving of a prize. I’ve created categories for the new names in the spirit of correctness and also maintained the old order for those who resent change.
- Aster novi-belgii ‘Purple Dome’. Michaelmas Daisy – compact plants to 50cm 2′ become mounds of fringed daisy flowers in late summer and autumn. This variety has violet purple flowers and a general smoky feel. Looks to all intents like a really compact Aster novae-angliae with hairy leaves whorled around none branching stems but classified as a novi-belgii. Who are we to argue! A wonderful plant for the autumn garden – no staking required!
Asters now classified in Eurybia
- Aster laevis (Eurybia laeve). The pale lavender flowers set against black stems and dark leaves give this aster an elegant charm. It is tall and open creating a substantial but delicate show in October. It looks particularly good when teamed up with Ater ‘Alma Potschke’. Full sun. 150-200cm. Fairly disease free
Amellus and Frikartii types
- Aster amellus ‘Pink Zenith’ (Aster amellus ‘Rosa Erfüllung’) A short, stocky aster whose freely branching stems are a riot of late colour with their soft, warm pink flowers, lit up by the bright yellow centre. Not just valuable for their colour, the blooms are a useful and much used late food source for bees. 60cm.
- Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ One of the finest hybrids ever raised. Clear lavender blue flowers borne on stout freely branching stems from July-October. Given the space this spreads it stems to form a gorgeous airy ball of lavender blooms for several weeks in late summer, just make a drink and sit watching the butterflies come and go from the blooms. Earlier than the Michaelmas daisy asters. Height 3 feet
There are Aster species from across the Northern Hemisphere, but the majority come from the Northern United states and Canada. They are reliable stalwarts of the late summer garden, helping to finish off the summer and lead us into autumn with a final hit of colour. Few could deny that Aster ‘Alma Potschke’ delivers one of the most eye-wateringly pink experiences of the floral year.
Recently the Botanists have been about Aster with a vengeance and you will now find several of the Asters reclasiffied under the rather attractive names of Eurybia and Symphyotrichon. I think there should be a prize for anyone attempting to fit Symphyotrichon novae-angliae ‘Andenken an Alma Potschke’ on one 4” pot label. I’ve listed these nomad species under both their new names – for correctness, and also the old ones – for nostalgia and those who don’t like change.
The first Aster to enter Britain came in 1633 with John Tradescant the younger. He brought back Aster tradescantii from his travels in Virginia.
The breeding of Aster novi-belgii began with a Midlands brewer, Ernest Ballard. He noticed a seedling in his Malvern garden that he thought very fine. He submitted it to the RHS for assessment only to be ignored twice. He persisted, and in the third year of trying Aster ‘Beauty of Colwall’ was awarded a First Class Certificate. Many fine cultivars have since been bred and named by the Ballard family.
The first A.novae-angliae hybrid to be sent to Britain came from its raiser in America. It was Aster ‘Harringtons Pink’ , a variety that we still sell today.
Another important group is the earlier flowering Aster Amellus cultivars and the related Aster x frikartii. They flower in the second half of the summer on shorter, more open plants. They are an absolute magnet for butterflies and long lasting colour in the border. This is a European and Asian group of plants. Aster amellus is a fine species in its own right, but a Swiss breeder called Monsieur Frikart crossed it with Aster thomsonii and created the finer Aster x fikartii, of which ‘Monch’ is a splendid example.