THE ASTER BORDER (MICHAELMAS DAISIES)

Growth and care

Michaelmas daisies and the other widely-grown asters are relatively easy plants to grow. Once established, they need little care beyond a regular watering and an annual feed. They are difficult to raise from seed – though paradoxically often self-seed – and are best propagated by division in spring or autumn or by taking 60cm/2ft high and 45cm/l1/2ft in diameter, smothered in the autumn with tiny flowers, mostly white, though some shading to pink, all with rich pink centres. As an added bonus, the leaves turn in the autumn, taking on a bronze hue with a hint of purple.

Alpine asters

There is an Alpine species, A. alpinus, which comes in shades of blue and mauve; it is smaller – just 15cm/6in tall and much less free-flowering than other asters, carrying each delicate bloom on a single stem, and is really suitable only for rockery cultivation. A. alpinus is summer-flowering, soft cuttings in spring. These should be rooted in pots and planted out in autumn. Plants purchased from garden centres can be planted out when they are bought.

English: Aster amellus, Asteraceae, European M...

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The plants look best planted in small groups; three is an ideal number. Taller varieties should be staked.

Michaelmas daisies can cope with any soil but prefer fertile, water-retentive ground, even heavy clays. They happily tolerate damp positions on the banks of rivers and ponds as well as thriving in borders. In fact, the only condition with which they cannot cope is drought in the growing season. They must be watered regularly in dry weather.

Michaelmas daisies, in fact all asters, make excellent cut flowers. If you do not harvest the blooms regularly, be sure to dead-head the plant to ensure repeat flowering. Once they have stopped flowering, cut the plants back close to the ground to help new growth.

 

The Michaelmas Daisies do well in a border on their own, and the bulk of them are in flower in October, when the rest of the garden is rather bare. It is quite excusable to have a special border for these flowers when the garden is big enough. In the normal way, however, the Michaelmas Daisies will be planted in the herbaceous border and so will extend the flowering season.

A good Michaelmas Daisy border might be planned so that it would be in bloom, say, from the middle of September to the second week of November, especially if it were possible to have this aster garden in a sheltered spot, where the plants would not be battered by the late autumn winds.

Any ordinary soil will suit the perennial aster. It should be well dug and manured for the roots of this family go down deeply on the whole. A liberal dressing of composted vegetable refuse, say at one bucketful per square metre, may be dug in a spade’s depth, plus a dressing of organic fertilizer as advised for irises. Michaelmas Daisy borders will not be down for more than two or three years and most of the taller free-flowering varieties insist on being split up every two years. Perennial asters may be increased by root division carried out in the autumn directly after flowering. With the taller varieties strong pea sticks should be used, pushed into the ground around and among the plants, so that the growth can develop naturally and yet be supported.

VARIETIES. Of course it is impossible to give a complete list of all the varieties there are and so I mention a few of the best.

ASTER ACRIS 600 to 900 mm (2 to 3 ft), lilac blue flowers, August-September.

ASTER AMELLUS This group varies from 600 mm to 1 m (2 to 3ft). King George, flowers 75 mm (3 in) across, blue. Sonia, bright pink, large flowers. Frikartii, large light blue flowers, late August-early October.

ASTER ERICOIDES 750 mm (2.5 ft) tiny flowers, heathlike foliage. Brimstone with lovely baby yellow flowers. Cinderella, 1 m (3 ft), erect and branching, blue. Ring Dove, 750 mm (24- ft), October, lavender.

ASTER NOVM-ANGUJE 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft), large flowers, generally coloured. Harrigton’s Pink, a very free grower. September Ruby, deep rosy red flowers, excellent cut flower.

English: European Michaelmas Daisy (Aster amel...

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ASTER NOVM-BELGll The tallest section of all. Many plants are over 2 m (6 ft) Ada Ballard, mauvy-blue, early September 1.3 m (4.5 ft). Beechwood Challenger, the finest red I know, September, 1 m (3½ ft) Moderator, semi-double rich mauve, September. Freda Ballard, exquisite double red flowers, October. Royal Ruby, a glowing ruby red 1 m, (3½ ft), October. Royal Velvet, a deep violet blue with golden centre, September. Lady Frances, a semi-double deep pink. October. Climax, a light blue with gold centre, 1.5 m (5 ft).

ASTER DWARF HYBRIDS (Largely introduced by my friend, the late Major H. Victor Vokes.) Victor, a clear pale lavender blue, 150 mm (6 in). Margaret Rose, a semi-double bright rose-pink. Blue Bouquet, a bright blue. Dandy, a purple red. Gayborder Charm, semi-double mauve. Jenny, a double violet-purple, 300 mm (12 in). Lilac Time, blue, 225 mm (9 in). Red Boy, rosy red. Pink Lace, double pink, 375 mm (15 in). Rose Bonnet, misty pink. Snow-sprite, white 300 mm (12 in).

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