Autumn Jewels II

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome10-6-15By Debra Knapke

I’ve often heard the complaint that autumn is dull, and all we have is mums and pumpkins.  Well, I recently went searching for jewels in my autumn garden and found not only jewels, but a plentiful array of flowers.  Below is a glimpse of these treasures.

Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha close 10-6-15 resize Aut FlwTricyrtis macrantha plant 10-6-15 resizeThis weeping toadlily, Tricyrtus micrantha, is a rare jewel in a Central Ohio garden. In my garden since 2007, it has been a shy bloomer. But my patience was rewarded this year with this gorgeous display of 1 ½” golden bells.

Aut Flw Tricyrtis hirta Sinonome 2 10-6-15The more typical flower form of a toadlily is an open six-pointed star with six stamens (male reproductive structures) fused to a six-lobed pistil (female reproductive structure). If you look closely at the buds and stems you can see how Tricyrtis hirta became known as the hairy toadlily.

Aut Flw Tropaeolum majus Alaska Mix 10-6-15Aut Flw borage 10-6-15I do not have Michael’s zinnias, but this nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus ‘Alaska Mix’) offers a zing of orange which contrasts beautifully with its variegated leaves. An added bonus: the flower petals and leaves are edible. Borage (Borago officinalis) offers another edible flower; imagine a cool whisper of cucumber flavor. The blue flower is also a complimentary color to the orange nasturtium flower. I often plant them together as I find it to be a pleasing color combination.

Aut Flw Aster laevis Bluebird bumble 10-6-15The smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is one of many asters in my garden. Asters supply food to bees, butterflies and later, birds. Two asters I can’t show you, since they don’t bloom until late October.  Perhaps, a last drink for pollinators?

Aut Flw Heuchera villosa Bronze Wave 10-6-15Our beautiful native Heuchera villosa and its cultivars (above is ‘Bronze Wave’) have become one of my favorite shade to part shade plants. Tolerant of dry shade once it is established, it offers a bold foliage effect and long-lasting flowers that bloom in August until frost. The inflorescences are so heavy that they gracefully bend and intermingle with other plants. Watch for hummers when heucheras are in bloom.

Aut Flw Chrysanthemum Mei Kyo 10-6-15Last, but certainly not least, are the hardy mums. This is an old hybrid, Chrysanthemum ‘Mei Kyo’, which has graced my garden for 20 years. Its flowers are just starting to open. I will have flowers to bring inside until a hard frost sends this mum “to bed”.

Aut Flw anaemone 10-7-15Where are the beautiful hybrid anemones that often grace an autumn garden? Well, in my garden the buds and flowers have become choice edibles for my herd of deer. I did not protect the flowers so I have beautiful leaves and naked stems adorned with a few seedheads of flowers that got away.

‘Wishing you a beautiful and creative fall!

All-Star Asters That Brighten Autumn

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

By Debra Knapke

Autumn is the time of golden, scarlet, and maroon leaves and shortened days. It is the time for picking apples and harvesting vegetables. We watch our gardens slowly decline, and yet there is one perennial that says “Wait, my time is now!” Enter the asters, the late summer to fall-blooming plants so loved by bees and butterflies.

We often overlook the flowers of autumn as we fill out our gardens with spring and summer blooms. Many of us buy plants in April, May and June when the spring and summer flowering plants proudly show their colors.   But we overlook the asters which are just emerging: green leaves and no flowers.

Asters are not difficult to grow. Here are a few cultivation and maintenance guidelines:

  • Asters prefer full sun, 6+ hours of light; most tolerate part sun, four to five hours of light.
  • Most asters are drought-tolerant if you keep the soil moist during the first year in the garden.
  • Asters love compost, but excessive fertilization will cause them to grow quickly and ungainly; an aster lying on the ground is not attractive!
  • The taller asters should be cut back by 1/3 in early to mid-June to promote stronger stems and to avoid the need for staking.
  • Asters are best divided in the spring.

It’s not too late to add these late bloomers to your garden, but don’t wait too long. After late August, asters may not have enough time to grow their roots into the soil and acclimate to your garden before winter arrives. If you miss the planting window this year, buy the green, leafy aster next spring.

Here are some species that are native to most of the Midwest. Many of the cultivars listed have been selected for their compact habits and richly colored flowers.

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

Aster Symphyotrichum Purple Dome

  • Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) – has aromatic foliage; height 18-36”, width 12-18”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; sky blue to lavender-blue flowers;   Look for: ‘October Skies’ (compact: ht. 18”); ‘Raydon’s Favorite’
  • Blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) – height 2-4’, width 2-3’; performs best in part sun, but tolerates sun to shady conditions, blooms Aug. to Sept.; small light blue flowers
  • Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) – height 1-2’, width 12-18”; blooms Aug. to Oct.; white to light pink flowers; look for ‘Pink Cloud’ ‘Snow Flurry’: both are more compact selections
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – height 3-6’, width 2-3’; blooms Sept. to October; light lavender or pink to deep purple or pink flowers; if the soils dries out, this species will lose the lower leaves on their stems; look for: ‘Purple Dome’ (compact: 24-30” tall) ‘Vibrant Dome’ (compact: 18-24” tall)   ‘September Ruby’
  • Smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) – height 2-4’, width 18-24”; blooms Sept. to Oct.; striking blue-violet flowers; look for: ‘Bluebird’
  • White wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) – the exception: prefers part sun to full shade; height 12”, width 18-24”; bloom Aug. to Sept.; white flowers; ‘Eastern Star’ is a more compact selection

Side Note:  The Aster Name

Not only do our native asters suffer because they lack early flowers, but they have been separated into new genera with difficult names. One of my horticulturist friends calls it the “aster disaster”. If a garden center has arranged the perennials by their botanical names, the asters will be spread across several locations on the nursery shelves. Fortunately, in most garden centers, asters still hold a place at the beginning of the alphabet instead of being scattered throughout the benches. For those who are interested the new botanical names are listed with the common names.

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: