Asters offer Dorset garden designers autumn colour

Aster la vista

Autumn is the perfect time for planting as the soil has been warmed all summer and is now starting to receive a moisture top-up. It’s a great time therefore to install structural plants such as trees and hedging, but what if you’re looking for instant colour with a long season of interest?

This is where the Aster family come into play. They are very easy to grow, thrive in sun or partial shade on a variety of soils, and are often very-long flowering and long-lived. They are also a great boon for birds and pollinators at a time when storing up energy to last the winter is vital. There is an Aster for almost any garden and they come in blues, pinks or whites usually with a contrasting centre.

For a soft ‘water colour’ look with sprays of dainty flowers on arching stems try the small-flowering species. Along with other Asters these have been ‘botanically moved’ and now have the catchy new name of Symphyotrichum (!). They will grow in a variety of conditions and will fit into traditional or cottage gardens as well as modern prairie garden settings. One of my favourites include S. Little Carlow, which is covered in sprays of small lavender blue flowers throughout autumn and will reach 4’ x 4’ or more. Others such as Ochtendgloren, popular with leading Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, offers purple-pink flowerheads with yellow centres on fine foliage whilst Prairie Purple features rich purple beautifully set against purple-tinted foliage. Lateriflorum varieties are slightly smaller, such as Lady In Black (a reference to the dark foliage rather than the two tone pink and white flowers).

Another group of Asters that have been moved into the Sympyotrichum category are the New York Asters (novi-belgii) which as the name suggests are native to North America. Botanists and growers have now produced over 1000 cultivars in a wide variety of colours and sizes.  They will grow in full sun and partial shade in moisture-retentive, free-draining soil (in other words most normal garden soils that have been reasonably looked after). These have a medium-sized flower of perhaps 2-3 inches in diameter. A stunning example is Ada Ballard which has double lavender flowers from late summer until late autumn.

If you’re after something bolder with much larger flowers (typically around 3 inches or more in diameter) and stronger colours then you can try Aster x frikartii Monch. With clear lavender blue flowers with yellow centres from July to October these work well in almost any garden setting. Other examples in this group include Jungfrau and Eiger suggesting mountainous origins.

Without a doubt there is an Aster for any garden, and they are an essential component of the gardener’s autumn palette. 

aster snow flurry
aster ochtendgloren