It wasn’t until I took an October trip to England nearly 20 years ago that I fully appreciated what Asters could truly offer to the fall garden. Of course I have always wanted to visit the British Isles and the most inspirational gardens in the world but I was disappointed to be going in October… I feared that I would be missing the blooming season but, as it turned out, couldn’t have been further from the truth. The gardens I had read of, learned about and lusted after were all as amazing as I could have imagined with a symphony of colors and textures that continues to influence my garden designs to this day.
Naturally, Asters were nothing unusual to me being a very popular, sun loving perennial plant but until I witnessed (in living color) how dramatic a role these fall blooming plants played in the English gardens of fame, I was not completely in tune with the show potential they possessed. Asters are a diverse group of plants with many families and classifications differing in sizes, bloom times and colors but all native to North America. Growing from 1-6’ tall and 1-4’ wide, it may be easier to select your preferred Aster by size and color rather than by specific family.
Many Dwarf Asters are available that are very hardy and easy to grow making excellent additions to the front of the garden either as single specimens or planted in groups. They also will work well in your fall pots and container gardens that are so tired looking by this time of year. Genetically low and round in shape, these Asters perform very similarly to Mums but survive our winters much more readily. Alpine Asters are spring blooming but the remainder of other Dwarf Asters are all about a fall show in white, purple, blue or pink hues. There are many series of these Dwarf Asters available and will generally be found in garden stores at the same time you may be shopping for fall Mums.
The most popular Asters grown in our area are medium sized Asters growing 18-30” tall. These bushy plants fill big spaces in the garden acting like shrubs that burst into blooms of purple, blue or white. Common varieties include frikarti ‘Monch,’ ‘Purple Dome,’ ‘Woods Pink and Blue’ and ‘October Skies.’
Whether planted alone or in a sweeping grouping, these Asters provide eye popping fall color to any sunny garden space.
Tall Asters make an excellent addition to the rear of the garden making an excellent complement to existing plantings of Ornamental Grasses, Butterfly Bush and/or Hydrangeas. My favorite is ‘Alma Potschke’ which displays a cloud of brilliant rosy pink flowers and ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ that boasts masses of sky blue daisies. Generally, I space these plants 2’ apart and plant in groups of 3 or more for the best effect. Trimming these plants in spring will help keep them bushy and full if desired. Planting these tall Asters behind foundation shrubs and the house gives you another season of interest filling what otherwise would be blank spaces.
For those of you who don’t have full sun, Aster cordifolius or Blue Wood Aster is a shade loving selection growing 2’ tall and makes a perfect complement to other shade loving plants like Azaleas, Hostas and Astilbes.
All Asters provide an excellent food source for pollinators that feed most heavily in the fall while Asters are in bloom.
Some of these plants may be a bit more difficult to locate due to their late season blooming and the difficulty growing these plants in the nursery. They can tend to get scruffy growing in pots and may make a less than perfect display in the garden center. Unfortunately, many highly desirable landscape plants simply do not present well in a retail environment and therefore are not as generally available as more manicured selections may be. Sadly, the consumers’ desire for a perfect plant has dramatically altered plant offerings leaving many excellent selections off the list of growers and retailers alike. I am afraid that this trend may take away many of the tools I desire when creating beautiful landscapes. I don’t want to be left with only the small box of Crayola’s to color my pictures when I know how much more fun it is to have that giant box of crayons we all wanted as kids (and adults). Knowledge is power therefore it will always be my goal to help you better understand and enjoy how to best decorate your world.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.