It’s been mild here again this month. Over the years I’ve got used to first frosts beginning during the first week of October. Temperatures have cooled a little it’s true but for some reason the cold snap hasn’t arrived. Indoors I’ve changed our lightweight summer bedding for toasty winter quilts but outdoors I’ve left my collection of tender scented geraniums on the deck where they are thriving. I will move them into the greenhouse at the first sign of frost but there’s no sign of it so far.
For the past few years October has been warmer and sunnier than I can remember. It’s not just our experience here in Lancashire. There are official records showing that our UK climate is gradually changing. I’ve just been reading some stats that show it’s not just this year that the frost is late. In fact it looks like the growing season has been extended by about 30 days in the UK. It’s warming up earlier in spring and cooling down later in autumn.
Whenever I read new scientific information like this there are always two ways to go. I could worry about it and wonder what the implications are or I could just choose to accept the facts and make the most of it. Positive and optimistic by nature I usually choose to make the most of it. In this case I’m choosing to enjoy the extra month in the garden. We’ve been introducing plants to extend the flowering season for a few years now.
There are lots of lovely plants that will go on and on flowering in autumn. Half Hardy Annuals such as Cosmos and Rudbeckia are brilliant for extending the season. They are perennials in their native countries. Rudbeckia is from North America. Cosmos is from Mexico where the warm year round climate doesn’t curtail their growth. Here as soon as the first frosts hit… that’s it, their season is over. Late summer and autumn flowering perennials are useful in the garden too. There many to choose from and some of the best are Asters. You may know them as New England and New York Asters. A recent name change has occurred when plant scientists discovered more about these plants and re-classified them. They are now known as Symphytotrichum. I have a feeling that most gardeners will continue to call these plants Asters and so will I for now.
Asters are brilliant for autumn flowers.
Some are better than others of course. There are lots of really lovely plants to choose from but one of my favourites is Symphytotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ previously known as Aster cordifolius ‘Little Carlow’. I love a good daisy and this plant has daisy-like blooms in profusion from late August to October. Petals are violet-blue to mauve with pale yellow centres which change to pink as the flowers age. It’s not just me that likes this plant… most good nurseries and garden stock it because it’s a good performer and trouble free. Little Carlow has the RHS Award of Garden Merit too which is a stamp of reliability.
Visit any garden open to the public in October and it’s likely you’ll see plenty of Asters. Often they are grown in generous clumps to provide sumptuous colour in mixed borders. Autumn flowering Asters tend to be tall, bushy plants so they add substance to planting schemes. They provide a welcome contrast to whispy plants and bleached autumn grasses. They also provide a welcome source of late food for bees and butterflies. What’s more they make lovely cut flowers.
Symphytotrichum ‘Little Carlow’
- Healthy vigorous hardy perennial growing up to 1 metre tall x 60cm wide in 2 – 5 years.
- Like most tall perennials ‘Little Carlow’ will need staking, probably from year 2 onwards.
- Will grow in most situations as long as these is part sun and part shade.
- Prefers that magic ingredient moist but well drained soil.
- After flowering cut stems to the ground and add a generous mulch (10cm/4 inches)of organic matter such as garden compost
- To maintain vigour divide clumps every three years or so retaining and replanting the fresh young growth. (Late flowering plants like this can be divided in Spring to prevent winter losses.)
As usual at this time of year I find myself wishing that I’d grown more of these gorgeous plants! If you are kicking yourself too – don’t worry, Asters are usually available for sale from all good nurseries and garden centres in 2L or 5L pots throughout the year. I like buying plants in flower then I can see exactly what I’m getting. Often open gardens have the same plants in their shop as they have on display in their borders. It’s easy to spot a plant you love then buy it on the way out. Bare root plants are also available from specialist nurseries in autumn and winter.
Are you growing Asters in your garden this year or next year perhaps?
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Have a lovely day. Gillian 🙂