Plant Profiles - Asters - the Jewels of Autumn

As many plants are sliding into autumnal retirement Asters are getting their glad rags on and setting autumn alight with their sparkly bright flowers. Not only do they give us a last finale in the garden before winter they provide much needed late season feeding for bees, bugs and beasties. 

Aster 'Badsey Pink'

Aster umbellatus

Asters come in a large variety of sizes, growing habits and flower types so it is worth researching the varieties you want to grow as some can be quite invasive. With more than 600 species in the Aster genus, it also belongs to the same family as the daisy. There are singles, doubles, tiny flowers, big flowers all coming in a range of colours from pure white, through pale pink, shocking pink and red to purples and finally blues. Found wild in North America and Southern Europe, asters are mainly perennials but a few are annuals and biennials. The two main groups of asters are the New England aster (Aster novae anglias) and the New York asters (Aster nova belgii). 

Aster 'Marie Ballard'

Aster 'Coombe Fishacre'

Asters prefer full sun, though a few will happily grow in partial shade. They should be planted in good well drained soil, especially important if they are to overwinter well. That said I grow them well in our clay soil here in the nursery. They are perennials so come up year after year, gradually increasing their width each year. They are another "Good do-er" here in the nursery in our challenging conditions. We do get a lot of wind here, being high up on the side of a hill but I find the Asters cope with wind very well here. 

Aster pilosum var. Pringlei 'Monte Cassino'

Asters are great for feeding our bugs and beasties in the late season

Asters look great planted with lots of other upright perennials and grasses. Use taller ones with Molinias, Miscanthus and Calamagrostis, Rudbeckia, Eupatorium and Actaeas at the back of the border. Shorter varieties sit nicely in the middle to front of the border as fillers with their many branched flower stems. There are even some small ones for the front of a border.

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Herbstschnee'

Lovely asters in the late afternoon sun

I've listed the asters we have in stock here in the nursery, they are in height order, smallest to tallest. Hopefully you will find the perfect Aster for your border. 

Aster (Symphyotrichum) ericoides f. Prostratum 'Snow Flurry'
Needle-like, pale-green foliage forms wide carpets covered with tiny, snow-white flowerheads from October to November. Good between slabs, on top of walls or in containers. H 10-50cm, S 45cm.

Aster (Symphyotrichum) lateriflorum var. Horizontalis
Used to great effect by both Christoher Lloyd and Dan Pearson for ground cover massing. Forms a 'hedge' of compact growth with masses of small, white daisies with reddish disc florets crowded on the upper sides of stiff branches. Tolerant of drought once established. H 50cm, S 60cm.

Aster divaricatus (Eurybia divaricata)
“Wood aster”. Fabulous perennial with shiny, black, decumbent, wiry stems. From mid-summer to mid-autumn the plant becomes an amorphous mass of tiny, pink-tinged, starry, white flowers. Good moist soil in partial shade but will tolerate quite a bit of dryness once established. H 60cm, S 60cm.
Aster (Symphyotrichum) laeve 'Cally Compact'
A nice wee plant with lavender-coloured flowers in September and October and will add interest to the garden as everything else is dying back. From Michael Wickenden. H 70cm, S 45cm.

Aster macrophyllus (Eurybia macrophylla)
Large leaves and starry, pale violet flowers with abundant seed heads that twinkle in winter frost. Flowers earlier than other Asters and happy in dry shade. H 75cm, S 60cm. 

Aster (Symphyotrichum) ericoides 'Pink Cloud'
Narrow leaves and sprays of pale lilac-pink daisies with a yellow centre. Full sun and well-drained soil. H 80cm, S 30cm.    

Aster (Symphyotrichum) ericoides 'Erlk├Ânig'
A great little cultivar that’s been around for over a century. Forms a spire of small, open branches adorned with tiny lavender-blue flowers. Makes a great late season filler in the border when other plants are going over. H 90cm, S 45cm.                                                                                                  
Aster (Symphyotrichum) ericoides 'Golden Spray'
This plant forms a great mound of densely branched, wiry stems, covered in small, white flowers with prominent golden-yellow disc florets. H 90cm, S 30cm.     
Aster (Symphyotrichum) novi-belgii 'Coombe Fishacre'
A compact and bushy plant that carries huge, loosely branched sprays of small, purple-pink flowers from September into mid-November. Not susceptible to mildew. H 90cm, S 30cm.                  

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novi-belgii 'Marie Ballard'
A clump-forming perennial with sprays of fully double, light violet-blue flowerheads in late summer and autumn. The vivid blue flowers make a great addition in the border and the bees love them, as can been seen on the plant in the nursery in late summer. H 90cm, S 50cm.         

Aster (Symphyotrichum) 'Little Carlow'
Superb cordifolius hybrid forming a huge clump of brilliant, lavender-blue flowers in mid- to late autumn (still going here in late November). For full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. H 1m, S 45cm.                                                                                                                                                            

Aster (Symphyotrichum) pilosum var. Pringlei 'Monte Cassino'
First saw this at Cambo – an altogether, rather graceful plant with starry, white flowers over very slender foliage, flowering from September all the way into mid-December here. Will grow in sun or shade and is quite sprawl and spreading, so give it plenty room and you will be rewarded with flowers right into winter. H 100cm, S 1.5m.     

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Herbstschnee'
Prolific, fairly large, pure-white flowers on a tall bushy plant. Best in moisture-retentive soil and full sun. Good back of the border plant for late season interest. H 1.2m, S 45cm.                  

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novae-angliae 'Septemberrubin'
A taller plant with deep ruby-purple flowers in September and October. Brilliant with grasses, Molinia and Miscanthus, as they begin to take on their autumn colour. H 1.4m, S 45cm.         

Aster novi-belgii ‘Blue Gown’
A strong, self-supporting plant with true blue flowers, healthy looking foliage and nice dark stems. Despite its parentage it should have no mildew! H 1.4m, S 90cm.                                                    
Aster umbellatus (Doellingeria umbellata)
Tall and stately, self-supporting plant with flat-topped heads of white flowers followed by fluffy seed heads in September and October. Brilliant with other late-flowering perennials and grasses. H 1.5m, S 45cm.                                                                                                                                                         

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novi-belgii
 'Marie Ballard'

Aster (Symphyotrichum) novi-belgii 'Marie Ballard'

Asters and Persicarias work very well together

Aster macrophyllus

Aster macrophyllus

Seedheads give interest in the garden right
 through to January

Aster umbellatus

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