HARDY PERENNIALS: ASTER

To some the name may denote only the annual ‘China Aster’, but this genus includes an immense range of plants in which differences of height, habit and size of flower are very marked. Many of the species are worthless from a garden point of view, but as with so many, popularity of some has led to a great deal of breeding so that now, an original species bears little comparison with modern hybrids. This is particularly marked in the case of Michaelmas Daisies, but just because these have become so popular since breeding began 60 years ago, there is no excuse for neglecting species which have definite claims to garden worthiness. One of the objects of this site is to bring some of the less known plants to the notice of keen gardeners at a time when their attention is mostly drawn to popular hybrids. No one can blame nurserymen who go in for colour plate catalogues which tend to feature new varieties, because apart from catering for popular appeal, he is of necessity, out to make a living. He can only be blamed if purely for gain he offers a new variety to the public which is no better or different to some already in cultivation.

ASTER thompsonii nana

ASTER thompsonii nana

There are many other Asters with claims to garden worthiness apart from the more unusual Michaelmas Daisies, few of which are trouble free.

A. thompsonii nana deserves full marks on the points that really matter—of being long lived without making too much or too little growth, a long season in flower, and both colourful and graceful. It has a very compact root and the soft greyish shoots grow to form a bush about 15-18 inches high by the time flowering begins in July. From then till October, the yellow centred light blue daisies 1 inch across never cease. All it needs is well drained soil and a sunny position. Other species worth growing include A. acris. This too makes a compact, disease-free root and in August and September is smothered in small starry mauve flowers on wiry stems 2½ feet, high. There is a dwarfer form in A. acris nanus which is 18 inches-to 2 feet. A. ericoides is so named because of its resemblance to heather, though growing much taller. All varieties of this grow about 2l/2 feet tall, as strongly erect bushes and then in September-October are covered with tiny daisies. A. ericoides ‘Brimstone’’ is sulphur yellow.

A. ‘Cinderella’ is light blue. A. laevis has starry lilac flowers in June and July on Vfy, feet bushes but A. linosyris, is decidedly yellow, wiry stems to iy2 feet are topped by a head of tufty flowers and in this type the variety A. ‘Gold Dust’ is to be recommended. All the above are compact growing as plants, but easy to divide. A. tongolensis ‘Berggarten’ and A. yunnanensis ‘Napsbury’ are mat forming

ASTER and earlier to flower. They both have large blue, orange 1 !/>-3 feet, and unless pot grown, are much safer to plant centred daisies on 15-18 inches stems in June-July, the in spring, which is the correct time for division. They latter being a week or two later than the former. A. spec- are not fussy as to soil, so long as it is well drained and in tabilis is another dwarf mat forming species, with leathery an open position. The best known variety is A. ‘King leaves on which come 12 inches sprays of really bright blue George’, a lavender violet colour, but A. ‘Violet Queen’ flowers in autumn. is superior, a rich glowing violet colour and very free flowering: Pink shades in A. amellus tend to be less strong

A. amellus. This is an important but rather neglected growing, but A. ‘Lady Hindlip’ and A. ‘Sonia’ are both of group. No doubt this is due to them being slower growing, proven worth, the latter being the lighter colour. A. ‘Otto but this is in their favour and they do not suffer from the Petschek’ is a dwarf and free rich blue, and A. ‘Nocturne’ troubles of wilt and mildew which affect the more unusual has a distinctive rosy-lavender shading. A hybrid between

Michaelmas Daisies. A. amellus flower from August A. amellus and A. thompsonii has stood the test of time as to October, growing quite erectly with soft grey green a very fine plant. It is A. frikartii with open branching foliage from a somewhat woody rootstock, and carry habit and large lavender blue flowers at 3 feet, high from white heads of single flowers. They vary in height from July to October.

A. Novae Belgii, the true Michaelmas Daisy is now placed in two sections. The dwarfs are valuable for frontal groups and edgings and generally give excellent ground cover. Most of them have a vigou-rous spread and though to some extent susceptible to mildew, do not suffer like some of the taller N. B. section. There is now a wide range of dwarfs, varying in height from 9-18 inches, and one of the best is A. ‘Little Pink Beauty’, with semi double flowers, A. ‘Alice Has-lam’ is rosy cerise A. ‘Blue Bouquet’, A. ‘Audrey’, A. ‘Lady in Blue’, all strong blues, and rose red is seen in A. ‘Dandy’ and A. ‘Little Red Boy’. A. ‘Jenny’ is an outstanding violet purple, A. ‘Rose Bonnet’ a rusty pink and A. ‘Snowsprite’ is still the best white.

In recent years there has been a swing away from very tall Michaelmas Daisies and this is all to the good, for the taller they are, the more troublesome, through stem weakness. Over the past 20 years, probably well over 200 new varieties have been introduced and whilst some indoubtedly have added to range of colour and quality of flower, such a welter of varieties makes it difficult to provide a list of recommendations. With the emphasis still on the dwarfer, more shapely growing varieties, A. ,Carni-val’, at 2 feet, semi double cherry red is worth growing, as is A. ‘Melbourne Early Red’. A. ‘Royal Ruby’ is outstanding making a blaze of colour at barely 2 feet, and A. ‘Royal Velvet’ a violet blue is also neat growing. A. ‘Guy Ballard’ is a semi double deep pink, A. ‘Sonata’ large flowered sky blue, and a good lavender blue exists in A. ‘Percy Thrower’, A. ‘Crimson Brocade’ and A. ‘Freda Ballard’ are semi double reds of proven merit and A. ‘Tapestry’ is a mildew proof semi double pink. A. ‘Lassie’ is an excellent pink also at 3 feet, and A. ‘Marie Ballard’ is a large double flowered light blue. Though small flowered, the red A. ‘ Winston Churchill’ is still deservedly popular.

A. Novae Angliae is a less important section, having ASTER Noviae-Angliae ‘Harrington’s Pink’ a limited colour range. Plants are sturdy but do not invade, and the stems are woody, long leaved. In dry or starved conditions these may shrivel before the head of finely rayed flowers open in autumn. A. ‘Harrington’s Pink’ is however, a charming colour and it is the only one that will drink when cut. A. ‘September Ruby’ is worth a place for the colour is deep and glowing. Both grow to about 4 feet, but the wide lavender lilac flowers are carried on stems only 3 feet tall. The attacks of mildew which sometimes affect the taller Michaelmas Daisies can only be prevented by spraying with a suitable solution before flowering. It becomes prevalent in dry weather, especially if there is a lack of sunshine and at the first signs of it, in June-July, a preventive spray used every 10-14 days, should keep plants free. Mildew only affects the current seasons growth and does not inhibit the plant itself, as does wilt. This is difficult to control and badly affected plants should be lifted and burned. A new stock from green tip cuttings, taken in spring is often recommended, but though no reliable rule exists, the safest course is to select wherever possible, stocks which a nurseryman is confident are virus free or varieties which are immune as some are.

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