Saturday, September 29, 2007


The plant in the illustration is Aster laevis 'Blue Bird' (aka Symphyotrichum laeve 'Blue Bird'), a current favorite among the garden asters here.
A century ago, when gardens were bigger (and, some might say, the selection of plants narrower), there was big enthusiasm for asters. Books of the time give long lists of cultivars. The photographs of aster borders in the works of Gertrude Jekyll seem to show more space devoted to asters than I have to give to everything in my garden. What a sight those must have been.
It's hard to account for the comparative lack of asters in our gardens now. Yes, the plants are apt to be big, and yes, in our climate they can be a bit weedy. And although many of the modern cultivars are not the same as those grown a century ago, there are many readily available asters which are probably as good as any ever grown.
One reason asters might not be as commonly grown as they were in the past is that the knack of growing asters has largely been lost. Many people who have grown asters will laugh at that statement: what knack, they probably ask, does it take to grow asters? Asters grow themselves and then some. If you've grown asters, you know where that leads. But books of the early part of the last century give copious instructions for growing asters, instructions which include directions for proper spacing of single stem divisions, proper provision for staking, proper pinching, proper soil preparation, proper division in the fall, proper annual replanting...A lot of effort went into the culture of asters in the old days, days when even small gardens sometimes had help. Well grown asters are labor intensive and need a lot of space; need I say more?
I went out this morning to admire the clump of 'Blue Bird' shown above: it was busy with butterflies and huge bumblebees (I call - probably incorrectly - all the big, gentle, rotund black and yellow bees bumblebees). And there was something else moving about among the clusters of flowers: honey bees! We rarely see honey bees in the garden any more, but they are here today, and in numbers.

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