The Autumn equinox has come and gone and with it brings the shortening of days. The 29th September is the feast of Michael and All Angels otherwise known as Michaelmas, the festival celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new farming year.
But not all the colour in the garden is over for the season and a flower that particularly shines through at this time of year is the Michaelmas daisy. Clusters of bright daisies in shades of pink, blues, purples and whites, sparkle on autumn days and add a lovely contrast to the rich Autumnal hues of turning leaves.
Michaelmas daisy is a broad name for a wide range of plants in the Aster family, these daisy-like flowers that bloom late in the year have been bundled into one category, but there are species of Aster native to America, Asia, Switzerland and Italy. In recent years, there has been a lot more research and a few name changes to relate to where and how the plants grow.
So, if you are off to the garden centre to buy some plants to brighten up a border, here are a few tips to help you: Asters as we know them, have now been split into two different categories; Asters and Symphyotrichum (much harder to spell and to say!) Generally, Asters that originate in Europe are still called Aster, they have oval toothed leaves and daisy flowers but the Asters that derive from America are known by the new name Symphyotrichum. If you look closely, then you’ll see the leaves are thinner and longer and the flowers are much smaller.
There are many different varieties, but in general they like similar conditions of a good well drained soil and plenty of sunshine, so it is down to personal choice and the limitations of where you want to plant them that will guide you.
Here are my top three for front, middle and back of border positions.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ – a bushy low plant with a profusion of blue daisy flowers that only grows to 45cm high and wide, perfect for the front of a border or along a retaining wall.
Aster x frickartii ‘Monch’ AGM – a sightly taller plant (60cm tall x 60cm wide) with larger lavender blue flowers.
Symphyotrichum novi-beigii ‘Sophia’ – a great plant for filling a gap at the back of a bed (90cm tall x 50cm wide) with small button-like double purple-pink flowers.
Originally published in Focus magazine