18 September 2009

Making a Complete Aster of Myself



It was something of a shock to discover, a few years ago, that I had fallen in love with asters. Not only that, but the love affair continues to grow and flourish. And become even broader based than I had dreamed possible.

Let me qualify that. I fell in love with the perennial, fall blooming type of asters, whether they're tall or small, blue or purple or magenta or hot pink. I've never grown annual asters so I really can't comment on them, other than to say I like their colours. But over the few years, something has clicked in my head where perennial asters is concerned, and I can't get enough of them.


This wasn't always the case. My first contact with these plants was with the wild varieties--of which there are myriad. In Nova Scotia alone, there are 18 native species (of a total of 175 species of asters in total, most of which are native to North America). Some, such as the New England and New York species, hybridize with great enthusiasm, and it's hard to tell one from another without quite a bit of skill.

I know how many native asters there are in this province because I consulted Roland's Flora, the revised and updated version of The Flora of Nova Scotia, written originally by A.E. (Doc) Roland and E.C. Smith back in the forties. I've mentioned Doc before in postings; he was a professor of botany at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, and a plantsman par excellence. When I arrived at AC in the late 70s, Doc had just retired but maintained his office in the biology department, and came in daily--sometimes to play chess with one of his colleagues, sometimes to write, sometimes to answer questions of students like me, who would drag in all sorts of plants or parts of plants and wonder what they were.


Doc was the only plant enthusiast I've ever met who could glance at a fragment of a plant and tell you instantly the genus, species, subspecies, and if applicable, cultivar. He was a whiz with asters, and if memory serves he had a particular interest in them. He was and still is one of my hort heroes, and along with his colleague Lorne McFadden, encouraged my love of botany and of growing plants. But when I worked one summer helping to build the NSAC herbarium of native and naturalized plants, our wild asters gave me headaches as I couldn't tell many of them apart.



Flash forward to today, jodi the gardener as opposed to jodi the botany student. I don't know how many times I've planted cultivated asters--alpine varieties, tall varieties, medium varieties--only to dig them up the following season, thinking they were weeds. And by the same token, I've cultivated impressive clumps of tall white aster, wood aster, heartleafed aster....all of which some would call 'weeds'...thinking they were the gorgeous varieties I had bought one place or another.

Or else the asters I HAD bought, supposedly the deep pink varieties that I coveted, would turn out to be...well, purple. Call it blue if you wish, but they're lavender purple to me--and while they're lovely, they weren't what I wanted at the time.


Finally, however, I got smart....sort of. Several years ago, I got a couple of tall pink asters from a friend of mine, planted them in a special part of the garden--labeled them carefully, and for good measure, took a picture of exactly where they were. The next spring, I was very patient, watching carefully as shoots emerged, resisting the urge to weed anything that might be an aster! I nurtured, and watched, and got excited as a clump formed exactly where I had planted one of my friend's and where the label though faded, still existed. Then I noticed another, bushier aster growing near the first, and wondered about that...waited and nurtured it and watched and discovered one day that it was one of the wild ones. I sent this plant rather quickly to the compost heap with a heap of bad language.

Then several local nurseries kindly brought in perennial asters, not only potted but in flower, so I could see what I was getting. I've also spent a good deal of time looking at other peoples' asters, as well as the wild ones. I've decided it doesn't matter what colour they are, or whether they're wild or domestic: I love them all, now. I've embraced the wild ones that pop up in the gardens, because butterfies, bees and other pollinators love them. So our garden is home to asters wild and cultivated, named and suffering from Lost Label syndrome. And I'm all right with all of them.



Some of the cultivated ones weren't named when I got them, so it's been amusing trying to figure out who is who; just about as challenging as trying to decide which wild species is which. I've decided this magenta cultivar is probably 'Jenny', because my sister has the same one. I think so, anyway.


This is the unusual, white flowered Puff--unusual to see a white flower at this time of year, although there are creamy white wild asters in bloom on the roadsides. It's a nice fresh counterpoint to some of the more jewel-coloured flowers currently still in bloom.


It's anyone's guess as to why this flamboyant deep-carmine marvel is named Winston Churchill, but it is. It's a low-growing type, or so far it is, and is making a really nice mound not far from Puff. The colour is clearer than the unnamed magenta variety I have, and not as hot-pink as Alma Potschke, a tall New England aster that may be my favourite overall.


This is the unique and well-named Lady in Black. No, the flowers are not black, but the foliage and stems are a deep magenta-near black. The plant smothers itself in tiny flowers and rather resembles flowery fireworks. It's a hybrid of the wild calico aster (A. lateriflorus), which I may or may not have weeded out of the garden in the past. I admit nothing where asters are concerned, when it comes to having nurtured or weeded the plants in my garden. Not any more.


Although Alma Potschke falls over (and is amazingly difficult to spell), I forgive her because she is such a marvelously coloured flower. I call this hot-pink though you may call it fuschia or carmine or any of a number of other descriptive colours. It's not magenta--there are still lots of magenta plants flowering in my garden, but they're more like 'Jenny. My dear Dad would likely have called that particular shade 'murple', or mauve-purple. Alma he would have described as being peptobismal pink, no doubt. Whatever the case, I love Alma's brilliance-a perfect contrasting colour to all the orange and russet and gold and yellow and bronze of this time of year. I did shear some of the asters in midsummer last year, which resulted in them growing lower and bushier and producing more flowers. The trick is to remember to do the shearing at the right time of season, so as not to delay blooming too much. Or, as was the case this year...to get it done at all. It didn't get done, so I have floppy-aster syndrome.

At least I don't have to shear the wild ones. Or stake them, label them, or do anything but enjoy them. Which I'm doing in abundance. Others may call them weeds in my garden. I'm calling them pollinators and bird-feeders.

And calling myself a bit of an aster for not surrendering years ago.

31 comments:

  1. My goodness jodi, you are growing some pretty asters. how lucky you are. i wish i could grow them as perennials. thanks for sharing.

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  2. Beautiful flowers! I like growing the native version of flowers too. They just seem happier in my garden. I love the red Winston Churchill aster. I bet you can see it a mile away!
    Glad I found you on blotanical.
    Laura

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  3. Hi Jodi, I fell in love with native asters when I moved to this shady garden...they grew here in abundance. The bees and butterflies that need late fall nourishment crowd each other trying to get to the flowers. I adore Alma...such a lovely strong color. ps I love the murple colored asters. gail

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  4. Your collection of asters are wonderful. I don't have much luck with asters. I had Lady in Black but I guess she didn't get enough sun because she didn't bloom and finally gave it up. I was hopeful that the foilage would be nice all summer but it was really a diappointment. Asters are a wonderful plant for this time of year.

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  5. Hi Jodi, your asters are beautiful! I just have one and I love it....it is Wood's Purple and it is just beautiful in bloom. It stays small too. Thanks for showing me some new ones...I will be hitting the mark down racks soon!

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  6. Hi Jodi! I posted about asters this week, too! I just bought two more purple ones last night, for Max's Garden. I got them for filling in an area that is heavy on the lilies and needed something for a few bare spots.

    Last year, I planted a native white aster in Max's Garden and it's quite tall, looking a lot like baby's breath at the moment, but it will be in full bloom soon. If I remember right, I think I identified it as Heath's Aster, but not sure.

    I love the intense colors they give the garden this time of year!

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  7. Hi Jodi! Asters are a favorite here, too, especially the calico aster. (I'm going to have to look for 'Lady in Black'!) I inherited 'Alma' when I bought the property, along with many wild asters, and she's been a faithful friend. Now I need to try to find 'Puff'! Thanks for sharing your wonderful collection.

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  8. I love all the "Asters" too. They featured prominantly in my Bloom Day post. You have a lovely assortment. Many years ago, I took a field class on fall plants at the Morton Arboretum, where I learned to identify a whole mess of native ex-Asters. I think I can still tell Sky Blue Aster from Smooth Aster, and Hairy Aster from Calico Aster, but after that, I'm a bit muddled. I'm ashamed to admit that I've killed 'Lady in Black' and 'Prince.' Other "Asters" do fine where they succumbed. I firmly believe that it is impossible to have too many, but you're right, those tall ones need a bit of trimming to keep them from turning into a floppy mess.

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  9. Nice post Jodi, although I'm not a big fan of the "Asters" myself.Oh, and I LOL really loud at the title of this post.

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  10. I'm sure I don't have a single one, well I did have one but it dried up. If I could get them to grow this beautifully, I'd plant lots. They are a very happy bush.

    I was going to ask if your cats smashed them. Cats like to go lay in a soft bush like these. But then I remembered your babies stay inside.

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  11. Lovely asters. I just have the wild variety in my garden. You certainly have quite the collection.

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  12. I love your title Jodi and share your love of asters... lovely varieties and so true how vital a nectar source they are. Carol

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  13. Your blog post reminded me to go look at my Lady In Black. I've been waiting a long time to see it bloom! But - the flowers don't look anything like your picture! Yikes! It's very pretty with its delicate white flowers - I wish they were a little bigger for more impact because the plant itself is so pretty and graceful. But the foliage is dark green, not dark purple and it's a little hard to see among the other plants. It's done quite well in its first year here in Sacramento CA. But what do I have? I still hve the plant tag so it was sold as Lady In Black but it must be a parent plant or something. I don't "do" magenta or fuschia or carmine or the bright pinks or purples (true blue is good) but I would like to have more white asters. I'll look for the Puff.

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  14. Hi Jodi! What a great, great post! I love summer asters, too. My Mom used to have tons of them. I remember they needed to be planted in a different spot every year to avoid problems. Perennial are easier in this term. You have wonderful varieties!

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  15. Well, darn - it looks like the calico aster. Pretty but not what I thought I was getting.

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  16. Hi Jodi,
    I enjoyed your post and photos! I had to laugh, because just this morning, I was thinking I should look at last year's photos to see if the asters by the shed were some I moved from another part of the yard, or if I bought the plants last year. The place I may have gotten them from puts the information on pots and doesn't put tags in them often, so there's no point trying to find the base of the plants.

    My first asters were planted by birds from a neighbor's yard. Someone told me they thought they were English asters. I get them cut back some years, but not others, too. Now that I have more, I'm thinking I got some done, but not others this year. The ones in front that aren't blooming yet are floppy even though I did cut them back.

    Now that I've seen your great selection, that makes me want to be on the lookout for more. I'm glad you've decided to embrace them all. The bees, butterflies, and other insects sure love them.

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  17. Just started following you on Facebook blognet. Great photos of the asters....
    Happy Fall Gardening!

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  18. Hi Jodi, your photos of the aster family, or now called Symphyotrichum, how's that for going from easy to difficult for no known reason at all?, are superb. We used to pull them out too, not knowing any better. Still can't identify most for certain, but love them all for the blowsy wowsy look they give the fall garden. :-)
    Frances

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  19. Hi Jodi, just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed this post a lot! Didn't know the world of Asters was so big... and you've got so many... Lady in Black instantly became my favourite - followed closely by the white Puff.

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  20. Never mind, we all make asters of ourselves when it comes to asters. My front garden is a aster haven at the mo and I hope to turn my new border into an aster paradise too. I have quite a few that I don't know the name of but hey, who cares, they're asters and that is all I need to know. ;-)

    BTW some of your asters are also growing at Bliss.

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  21. Jodi, I can see why Alma is at the top of your list--that is a stunning color! As my garden winds down for the year, I am so glad to have the few asters I do have to provide a little color. More are definitely needed here! I'm still chuckling over the "floppy aster syndrome"...

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  22. As usual you have turned something I don't just love into something I sort of covet a little... How do you do that??? Lady in Black - please! Want. And the white puff too... Plus don't you just have to love anything that lends itself to such great puntification?

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  23. Jodi, the white asters I bought last week had a tag in them identifying them as 'Puff White.' There was also another generic tag stating they were New York asters, with no cultivar name. I didn't think they were really 'Puff White' because it said the blooms were large and these aren't really. They're typical aster-sized. Do you think they're 'Puff White' after all?

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  24. Your asters are beautiful. I have a nameless purple, and the bright pink Alma Patschke, but I'm thinking about getting more. I'd love to find some that worked in flower arrangements, too. Mine don't last very long.

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  25. Wow, I have never seen so many asters in one place. I need a few more in my garden. What's not to love about a plant that blooms so hardily when everything else is drying up!

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  26. Being a September baby, I've always felt an affinity to asters (this may be one hard-to-relinquish botanical name). Yours are beautiful. Thanks for the introduction to some of the rarer varieties.

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  27. I wished I could grow asters, they are very sensitive and difficult to grow in my place. Tryly admire your flowers!

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  28. As always I'm dumbstruck by your collections. Love all the Asters but the coneflowers are still my favorites :)

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  29. the plants are great and your photography makes everything look so artful. I like the lady in black - so interesting.

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  30. Wow! These are just stunning. We don't do so great with asters here - some, but nothing like what you have. And aren't they just about the most photogenic of flowers? Your images are lovely.

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