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Posts Tagged ‘Asters’

So we are finally starting to have cooler nights. The last week was more rain than sun. Some trees are starting to color up and the sour tang of decay is beginning to creep into the air. There are a few plants which are in their glory now this late in flowering year. One group which stands out are Asters, their lavender blues are seen along roadsides and in gardens everywhere. Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ (Monch Aster or Frikart’s Aster)is arguably the best of this mighty group of plants.

Aster x frikartii 'Monch' combines the best of its parents to create a wonderful plant.

Aster x frikartii 'Monch' combines the best of its parents to create a wonderful plant.

Frikart’s Aster was a planned meeting of 2 species to produces a plant that combined the best of the parents.  We do not know exactly why these plants were selected by Carl Ludwig Frikart (1879-1964) but we are grateful for the outcome. Little is known about Frikart other than he ran a nursery in Stafa, Switzerland and is said to have had a large rock garden which was built in the 1930s.

This clump of long lived Aster Frikartii 'Monch' is found in Playfair Park.

This clump of long lived Aster Frikartii 'Monch' is found in Playfair Park.

The two Asters Frikart decided to combine were Aster amellus and thompsonii.  Aster amellus is called Michealmas Daisy or Starwort in Europe where in comes from. It grows from France east through Italy into Czechoslovakia. It has more attractive leaves than most other Aster species and is more tolerant of dry conditions than most others. It also less effected by most of the common disease of Asters such as leaf spot and mildews. The other Aster selected was Aster thompsonii which comes from the Himalayas and is most commonly seen here as the form ‘Nana’ It has larger lavender blue flowers and wiry dark stems. I have grown both species and must say that they both are neat attractive plants with less pests or disease than other better known species.

The single flowers of Aster Frikartii 'Monch' make beautiful subjects for use in boquets.

The single flowers of Aster Frikartii 'Monch' make beautiful subjects for use in boquets.

Carl Ludwig Frikart began crossing amellus and thompsonii and named his first successful crosses after the famous mountains in his native Switzerland. Three were named in 1918: Eiger, Jung Frau and Monch, of these ‘Monch’ became the most famous and planted throughout the world. He continued making crosses and later released ‘Wunder von Stafa’ (‘Wonder of Stafa’) named after the town were he lived, it is still grown and is available especially in Europe. Later Alan Bloom of Bressingham Nursery would add the cross ‘King George’ to the list.

'Monch' Aster fits well in this mixed perennial and shrub planting at Government House.

'Monch' Aster fits well in this mixed perennial and shrub planting at Government House.

Monch Aster is in many ways really well suited for the garden where other Asters are not. Many of the Aster we grow originally come from plants which grow in swampy areas or on the edges of waterside. Aster x frikartii Monch‘s parents come from naturally dry areas. Here we have damp springs and bone dry summers which cause many Asters to develop diseases which are rarely seen with Monch’s Aster

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The simplicity, large size and purity of color of Monch Aster flowers is one of most pleasing aspects of the plant.

The simplicity, large size and purity of color of Monch Aster flowers is one of most pleasing aspects of the plant.

Monch Aster are easy to grow, they like full sun, well drain soil with some nutrients and less than average water throughout the year. They are fairly compact especially in full sun, growing 60-90cm(2-3ft) tall and with about 50cm(1.5ft). If they are tending to flop stake them up, I have not really seen this here unless the plants are in to much shade.  They are hardy to zone 6 or -15c(5f).

The attractive foliage that Aster x frikartii `Monch`is an added benefit.

The attractive foliage that Aster x frikartii `Monch`is an added benefit.

Probably the best reason to use this plant is its extremely long season of bloom which lasts from late July into October.  Here you will see it in traffic medians in Saanich because its a low maintenance plant which gives color for several months. Frikart`s Aster is very versatile, it can be used in many places. It is seen in sunny perennial and shrub borders, as seasonal color, in containers, mass planted, in dry borders or hard to water areas and as an accent in gardens.

Searching for Monch Aster:

Aster amellus is also called Italian Aster:  http://www.gardening.eu/plants/Perennial-Plants/Aster-amellus/1742/

New York Times article on Asters: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/15/nyregion/gardening-asters-can-be-ordinary-or-spectacular.html

Sunset article on Monch Aster: http://plantfinder.sunset.com/sunset/plant-details.jsp?id=321

Until we meet again soon…

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When I was small I always looked forward to certain plants blooming in special places that I knew of. One such plant grew along Connaught Hill near where our house was. I spent many hours during the spring all the way into the fall visiting sites looking for those tell-tale plants and being excited to find them still there year after year. On such group of plants were an unusual mauve for native plants there. They of course were what I knew as Asters. In B.C. we have 26 species, some in shades of purple and some are white. All Aster species have undergone a careful scientific evaluation recently and most have been renamed. In B.C. all the 26 Asters have been re-classed as Symphyotrichum, Eurybia, Eucephalus, Ionactis and Canadanthus speices in the Aster(Asteraceae) family. Here on  Vancouver Island  the commonest species is the Common California Aster(Aster chilensis) is now should be known as Symphyotrichum chilense, and no it is not found in Chile.

The common mauve of the California Aster seen along roads here.

The common mauve of the California Aster seen along roads here.

California Aster is primarily a coastal plant which grows from southern Oregon through all of Vancouver Island and southern parts of the mainland of British Columbia. It ranges inland to the Coastal Mountains. The first place I found it was when I was picking Blackberries at a park near where I live. I happened to be along the edge of the park searching for berries and found what looked like a single plant struggling against the grass in the overgrown ditch. This of course alerted me to be on the lookout for more of these plants. I think one reason I might have missed them in the past was that their color is very similar to the wild Chicory which is blooming at the same time.

This wonderful display of California Asters was found along Widgeon Rd. in North Saanich in 2007.

This wonderful display of California Asters was found along Widgeon Rd. in North Saanich in 2007, they are no longer there now.

I soon found the best place to view California Asters was along the side of busy roads here. Roads here have large gravel shoulders which often become overgrown with plant material which is periodically cut down.  This year there  are two or three great patches growing along East Saanich Road  in an very open place and hopefully they will live on there. Another place I see them is along West Saanich Road where they have survived several years and bloom.

The only color of Symphylotrichum chilense(California Aster) I have seen here.

The only color of Symphylotrichum chilense(California Aster) I have seen here.

We naturally are dazzled by the deep and sometimes startling colors of non-native Asters, these are the common ones which we see in nurseries at this time of the year. Many do not thrive here and are susceptible to unsightly disease such as mildew, rusts and black rots.  I think we should look close to home to choose and highlight our natural bounty of plants and California Asters would fit the bill perfectly.  Symphyotrichum chilense a dense plant which grows 50cm(20in) to 100 cm(40in) tall and forms a 30cm(12in) wide clump.  If it is happy it will vigorously spread, therefore care must be taken in placement not to put it near slower and weaker growing plants. Asters are often placed near the back of the border in gardens or in more loosely designed area.

The soft flower color and attractive foliage make California Asters an attractive addition to the garden.

The soft flower color and attractive foliage make California Asters an attractive addition to the garden.

All Asters need full sun and good air circulation to keep them at their best. California Asters like to grow in areas with sufficient water that they can bloom at this late summer season.  They tolerate a wide range of soils as long as it has good drainage during the wet winter months. The can be pruned down in early summer to keep them short if you desire. These plants feed the Bees and Butterflies at this time of the year.

California Asters in amoungst the grass.

California Asters in amoungst the grass.

Look along the roadsides in your area to see the asters which are native to your area. There are many throughout the world, especially across North America and Europe.

Learn more about Symphyotrichum chilense:

a brief description of the California Aster: http://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/aster-chilensis

A list of Aster synonyms from Wiki which is very extensive:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Aster_synonyms

CalPhots page on California Aster with more technical links: http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?query_src=&seq_num=130489&one=T

Until We Meet Again soon….

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