Category Archives: Featured

“Persistent” Perennials

Glossy evergreen European Ginger with fallen Acer foliage in early November.

I’m already missing the technicolor foliage of early November, but so it is and it’s not ALL brown out there. During this morning’s garden stroll my gaze caught sight of  various shades of green, silver, and even gold…not only from conifers but from perennials with persistent foliage.

Helleborus foetidus

It’s good to remember there are perennials that retain handsome foliage into winter. Some are considered semi-evergreen as their leaves may finally succumb once the temperatures drop into the low teens.  In order to extend their attractiveness, consider planting in a protected spot, perhaps close to the house or at the base of larger evergreens.   

Of course there are the Hellebores. There is Helleborus foetidus which begins to set bud in mild December weather, and the legendary Christmas Rose (the hybrid clones ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ can begin flowering by Thanksgiving).  The many Helleborus orientalis clones retain their leaves but won’t set buds until March in our area.

Cyclamen coum

Another shade lover is Asarum europeanum commonly called European Ginger,  with its glossy dark green round foliage persists all winter. By spring it will need a cut back to welcome fresh new growth.  It doesn’t increase that quickly but is hardy in zones 4-8.

Hardy Cyclamen bloom in autumn, but their attractive foliage persists through winter. They love dry shade and actually do well at the base of trees with root competition. The two species to try are C. coum and C. hederifolium, both of which are hardy in zones 6-10.

Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’

A walk about the garden offered Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’,  other wise known as Lords and Ladies, which pops up in the October garden from summer dormancy and remains until late spring.

Rhodea japonica foliage in December.

Rhodea japonica (Japanese Sacred Lily) is grown for its evergreen lustrous dark green strap-like  foliage . We’ve had this in the garden for 20 years, a testament to its hardiness.

Very happy Epimedium ‘Domino’ foliage.

Many Epidemium are considered semi evergreen here in southern New England. ‘Domino’ , pictured above, looks especially sturdy despite last night’s temperatures in the mid 20’s.

More shade area candidates: Disporopsis pernyi is commonly referred to as Evergreen Solomons Seal.  It will form nice thicket in a shady protected bed. Of the persistent ferns, I especially like the Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern).

Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'

Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’

Don’t forget that Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks) and a number of Sedum species keep their foliage year round.  There’s golden leaved Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’ which takes on amber tones.  Another evergreen little creeper is Sedum album ‘Coral  Carpet’. Cold temperatures will bring out coral red tints to the dark green succulent leaves.

Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

Many gardeners have a disdain for Yucca, but I celebrate its ability to put up with hot sunny dry conditions, produce bayonet stalks with white lily flowers which attract hummingbirds and pollinators, and  for the their architectural form in winter.  Yucca ‘Color Guard’  boasts  yellow variegation that glows.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Other candidates for a sunny well drained spot are some of the Euphorbia (Spurge).   Euphorbia myrsinites, above, perpetuates by self sowing in poor gravelly soil.and is hardy in zones  5-9.

I do try year after year to winter over outdoors the Euphorbia x martinii hybrids such as Ascot Rainbow’ ,  not always with success. They are listed as being hardy in zone 6, but I stress this is only in a protected spot with great drainage. The ascending stems will bear showy flower bracts come early spring (flowers are formed on last year’s stems), but that is only if they do not get blasted by arctic winds.  Plants may not die, but the top growth will need to be cut back hard. The plants will break ground with new foliage growth in the spring.

There are many evergreen Euphorbia native to the Mediterranean  which are hardy to zones 7-8.  We are in zone 6B (I won’t say 7 yet).  I think with climate change upon us, we may soon be able to grow more Euphorbia species here in Southern New England.

Please share which persistent perennials you have in your garden.

Container Report Fall 2023

Phormium ‘Sundowner’ makes a great vertical feature when combined with succulents. This container had about 4-6 hours of sun, (it could have used more!) but still looks pretty fantastic. There was one casualty in the group: Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ didn’t last for long.

It is now mid October, and after a rather warm and wet September, we are being treated to a nice lingering early autumn with no frost in the forecast (fingers crossed). After so many dry summer seasons, I don’t think many gardeners here in the northeast were expecting to get so much rain this year! Foliar Fungal diseases made themselves known, but I found it interesting that our succulent combinations did so well (the key is be sure you use a succulent soil mix).

The tall cylinder urn across from the parking area gets full day sun and the succulents grew well, but the tall Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, which added height, died sometime in early summer. The iron fiddleheads came in handy to give a little elevation.

Perhaps this rectangle terra cotta planter could have used more sun. The crassula muscosa sort of melted by September.

Echeveria ‘Lucita’ which sat in a spot receiving only morning sun, filled this Apulia bowl from Campania. This Echeveria is generous with offsets.

Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’, with Lantana montevidensis (just an outstanding plant!) carried this 36″ long rectangular planter. Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Profusion’ got overwhelmed, and the annual Orlaya gave off a few white umbels and then petered out.

Think house plants for shady planters. Begonia ‘Raspberry Truffle’ is complemented by the variegated Goldfish Plant, Nematanthus ‘Golden West’ and Rhipsalis baccifera. We use mini white pumpkins to add a little fall pizazz.

The 36″ diameter Zen bowl was sited in a tough spot where it only received a couple of hours of mid afternoon sun. The Colocasia didn’t mind, nor did the Pilea microphylla (Artillery fern) and variegated Bermuda Grass, both of which overwhelmed the black leaved Geogenanthus and even the dwarf variegated Papyrus. I thought this combination of black and white variegated foliage would be more exciting….maybe it needed an urban setting and not a shady gravel area in front of an old farmhouse.

These urns are also getting more shade than sun. The yellow form of Begonia boliviensis is just not as vigorous as the more common orange form, but it still did okay. The pinky variegated Ficus is slow growing…it took all summer to grow up. Still, with Ming Fern, Oxalis spiralis aurea and Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ as supporting players, this combo passes the test.

The left shot was taken in late July, the right image is from a few days ago. Cordyline ‘Mocha Latte’ shot up a bit , and the Flowering Maple, Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ went through blossoming spurts all summer. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ had better color when it received more sun earlier i the season. Oxalis spiralis ‘Aurea’ does well in so many different conditions.

Maybe it was the weather we had this year, but the Petunia ‘Mocha Latte’ was a bit of a dud by August, despite being fertilized regularly. The ensemble was relying on a constant show of white blossoms etched with chocolatey purple. One Petunia just completely died, so we tucked in a black raven statue to fill in the hole.

I realize now that the placement of these urns needs to be rethought. They are now getting much more shade than a few years ago. The combination of succulents and Elaeagnus x ebbingei would have been more impressive if it received more sun.

As I mentioned in the June report, the goal each season is to have containers that hold up throughout the season without a lot of fuss and bother. All things considered, (lots of wet and overcast weather, less time maintaining and fussing) the planters still look pretty good, and they have inspired me to do variations in 2024.

How did your containers hold up? Did you have any combos you  were especially happy with?

September Bloomers for the Shade

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

We’ve all learned that we should focus on foliage plants for our shade gardens, and think of any flowers as welcomed surprises. May we bring to your attention a few plants that you may want to add fora fall surprise? I would say that all appreciate partial sun…perhaps about 4 hours for a good display .

Salvia koyame

First, there is the soft yellow blooming Salvia koyame native to Japan, commonly known as Yellow Woodland Sage. It grows 2’ tall and 3’ wide, with bold gray-green leaves that are generally left undisturbed by deer, but bumbles butterflies and hummingbirds are happy to discover it.  Salvia koyame likes a well drained soil with perhaps 4 hours of sun to flower well, and is hardy in zones 5-9.

Boehmeria platanifolia

Another plant we’ve enjoyed in our shade garden for years is Boehmeria platanifolia commonly called Sycamore Nettle.  It too has bold foliage, reminiscent of Sycamore Maple with incised edges, and can attain a size of 3-4’ with equal width.  The flowers are a curious pale green-white,  and fuzzy, on drooping tassels. It is enjoyed by various bees. Plants are hardy in zones 5-9.

Japanese Shrub Mint bloom

Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Mountain Madness’

Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Gold angel’, with a spring Allium peeking through the foliage. Note: a good way to disguise Allium leaves.

Japanese Mountain Mint is a shrubby member of the mint family; it does not run. The form ‘Gold Angel’ with its pale lemon leaves. is more restrained in growth (2-3’) than its gold and green variegated counterpart, ‘Mountain Madness’ which quickly grows to 4-5’. Both  ‘Mountain Madness and ‘Gold Angel’ display bottle brush cream colored flowers in late September-October) and are welcomed by various bees. Generally undisturbed by deer, plants are hardy in zones 5-8.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ offers a bold golden foliage alternative to Hosta that the deer bypass. In September, clusters of tiny white flowers are produced that are favored by Honeybees, which are then followed by deep purplish black seeds.  Plants can reach heights of 4-5’ in height and width, although it is generally listed to 3’, ‘Sun King’ is hardy in zones 3-9.

Plectranthus effusus longituba

Yes there is a hardy Plectranthus (through zone 6, anyway). Plectranthus effusus longituba has gone through several Genus names…It used to be called Rabdosia and also Isodon. Willowy stems adorned with long tubular soft blue lavender flowers add a softness to the partial shade garden. Plants enjoy well drained soil, and grow 2′ to 3’ tall. hardiness zones 6a-9.

a showy Toad Lily…Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’

Of course there are the many Toad Lilies.  we think ‘Tojen’ gives you the best floral display, but the very graceful Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’ is a charmer. Toad Lilies like an evenly moist soil and  prefers a soil that drains well in the winter. Both are hardy in zones 4-9.

Which are your favorite late season bloomers for shady gardens?

 

 

 

Signs of Life

Galanthus and Crocus in the beginning of March!

Daylight savings time has me confused. It’s after 6pm and still light out! There is a nor’easter in the forecast as I write, but for the past few weeks  signs of the approaching Vernal Equinox (equal hours of daylight and darkness) are everywhere. Plants are stirring indoors and out.

No special treatment for these Cybister Amaryllis, Hippeastrum ‘Evergreen’, to bloom in March,

Houseplants seem a little perkier. Amaryllis naturally awaken right about now (so if you didn’t try to trick them into holiday bloom last fall, you get to enjoy them now). Hardy bulbs are showing signs of green (the snowdrops have been up for awhile!) And Hellebores, the first of our hardy perennials to bloom, have buds forming and are just waiting for a nice stretch of sunny warmer days to thrill us.

Hellebore buds breaking as the old leaves splay out

Yes, it’s time to go outside and remove last year’s tarnished Hellebore foliage. Wet, decaying foliage has pathogens that can mar the blossoms.  Epimedium foliage should get cut back now as well, so the new growth doesn’t become entangled  with the old.

Praying Mantids just hatching!

This year I’m trying to find a balance of holding off cutting back last year’s foliage on garden plants and leaving some stems that may be sheltering hibernating beneficial insects. Watch for praying mantid egg sacks, which look a bit like tan styrofoam blobs. We occasionally remove a stem with a sack to place inside our greenhouse. After a spell, these amazing creatures will hatch and march off in search of aphids and other greenhouse pests.

Peperomia scandens variegata

How are your houseplants looking? If you keep the “tried and true” plants that tolerate indoor dry air, low light situations such as Snake Plant, Asparagus Fern and some Peperomia, you may be pleased with how well they’ve held up. A suggestion: these plants could still benefit from a little root pruning and repotting with fresh soil.

Other plants that prefer more humidity, like many Begonia, may appear in need of help.  First remove any tired leaves, then bring the pots into a slightly warm shower and give a good soaking, leaving them in the damp room.  Do you follow Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden Blog. And podcast? Her recent interview with Karl Garcens provided great tips. Karl advocates restricting your houseplants to one’s that tolerate your home’s conditions. Easier said, then done.

Gasteria bicolor var. liliputana sending up its sturdy stems of curious flowers.

If you have a space indoors that receives good southern or western light, your succulents are probably are thriving. Aloe bloom heavily in late winter and early spring, many Echeveria and all their close relatives flower well at this time of year, and Gasteria with their  elongated stalks adorned with pale pink and green bladder pouch blooms make us smile.

sedeveria

A Pachyveria reaching for the light.

However if you have less ideal conditions (not so much light) and your succulents have stretched, cut back as needed, repot with fresh soil tailored for succulents and stick then you can stick the cuttings for more plants. The good news is that the days are getting longer and that means more light. We advocate bringing your succulents outdoors once the danger of frost has passed. Warning: Transition them slowly, first a few hours of early morning sun, then allow more. Succulents can get sunburned otherwise, and that foliage will forever be scarred. Click here for another post with more details on what to do with your succulents as spring approaches,

Generally speaking, potted plants appreciate some fresh soil each spring. We always begin feeding once new growth appears. I alternate between using a seaweed fish fertilizer (highly recommend Neptune’s Harvest brand, and Dyna-Gro). A half strength dose once a week is a good regimen to begin, except for succulents which we limit to once a month. We tend not to fertilize succulents in the summer and fall.

3 favorite plant shopping spots in San Diego County

Pyrostegia capensis, aka Flame Vine, enticing us to enter Solana Succulents Nursery.

For the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to travel and spend time in San Diego CA during January where our grandson Taylan lives with our son Phil and daughter-in-law Annique.  Each time we come out, we schedule visits to nurseries in search of new plants to bring back and grow in MA. 3 of our favorite stops are Solana Succulents in Solana Beach, Botanic Wonders and Kartuz Greenhouses in Vista.

A very old and bonsai-pruned Titanopsis

Solana Succulents is owned and operated by Jeff Moore, an author of several books on Aloes, Agaves as well as “soft succulents”, which is a phrase now used  to describe a wide variety of succulents that are less tolerant of cold temperatures than “hardy” selections, and are generally not prickly or spiny. Jeff always has a treasure trove on display, including hard to find little gems supplied by individual collectors. Solano Succulents carries fun and unique handmade pottery to showcase specimen succulents and bonsai, and has a particularly attractive feline greeter.

Solana Succulents’ official greeter.

Some or our stash from Solana Succulents.

Botanic Wonders display and selling greenhouse.

Al Klein and Anthony Neubauer of Botanic Wonders in Vista have created a mecca for those in search of rare succulents. Plants are especially well grown and displayed, with an emphasis on Cycads, Cacti, Aloe and Euphorbia. Botanic Wonders also carries some beautiful plant pottery created by local artists. We were especially  smitten with the vessels Susan Aach creates.

An amazing free form vessel created by potter Susan Aach.

Just had to score some of those amazing miniature Aloe at Botanic Wonders.

New to us, this trailing/prostrate Medinilla sedifolia just coming into bloom at Kartuz Greenhouse.

Kartuz Greenhouses is a tiny backyard operation that is a source for unusual tropical plants with an emphasis on Begonia and Gesneriads. Mike Kartuz, a Massachusetts transplant who settled in Vista in the late 1970’s, was a well known figure in the Begonia Society.  Sadly, we learned on this visit that Mike had passed away last summer (2022) at the age of 95. The business is continuing to operate and is run by the very knowledgable and capable Rosa. Rosa worked with Mike in the greenhouse for many years. We hope she continues propagating some truly collectable plants.

some of our finds from Kartuz: L to R Hibiscus splendens, Hoya obscura, Begonia ‘San Miguel’ and Begonia ‘Essie Hunt’. We also bought a number of  dormant plants, which are not photogenic at the moment.

We hope to find time in our final week for a few more nursery visits. Watch for a secondary post with more new acquisitions.

 

Amaryllis and their Aftercare

Amaryllis ‘Wedding Dance’

So you’ve purchased or were given a gorgeous Amaryllis, and you love it. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are fabulous winter bloomers from the southern hemisphere. There are many species and cultivars and they can be bold and showy or delicate and ethereal. The long lasting flowers can show off for several weeks, and top size bulbs can produce multiple stems.

Amaryllis ‘Evergreen’, with smaller spidery flowers

The big question is: What should you do with your Amaryllis after the holidays to keep these plants happy and encourage them to bloom in the future?  Here are some tips.

  1. When the last flowers fade, remove the flowering stem(s). Do not let seeds form, as this will draw strength from the bulb and may inhibit flowering.
  2. Leave the green strap-like foliage on the plant to provide nourishment to the bulb and continue to give it bright light. Once warm weather arrives, you can put your plants outdoors in a spot that gets morning sun. Water only as needed. Your bulbs should be in a well drained soil mix. Do not keep soil constantly wet.

    Be sure to leave the upper third of the bulb above the soil line when you pot up.

  3. In mid-late summer (August) introduce your plants to dormancy.  They need a 2-3 month period of darkness and cool 45-50F temperatures, and during this spell, withhold water.  This is the challenging part: some of us have basements that remain dark and cool, but most of us do not.  Another option is to use your refrigerator, and this is where a spare fridge is handy.  Place the potted Amaryllis inside, minus any dead foliage.  Or, unpot your Amaryllis bulb, cut off any greenery and place in a bag with some wood shavings or dry sterile potting soil and leave to chill for at least 6-8 weeks.  In mid-late October, remove your bulbs out of their chill cycle, pot them up using a well drained soil mix and water once. Move into a sunny warm spot and do not water again until you see signs of green shooting. Sometimes it takes awhile to wake up the bulbs. Bottom heat can help.

More tips:

4. The choicest varieties need to be purchased from reputable bulb vendors in the fall.  If you want blossoms in time for the December holidays, choose bulbs that have the distinction that they were grown in the southern hemisphere, rather than having been imported from northern regions such as the Netherlands. Give yourself 6- 8 weeks lead time.  Often, these southern hemisphere grown bulbs will be labeled specifically as “Christmas Amaryllis”. Bulbs imported from Northern Europe will still bloom this winter, but they take longer to come into flower. No worries…it’s still delightful to have them burst into bloom in midwinter!

5. After the big chill, be sure to pot up in a sterile, well drained potting mix with the top third of the bulb above the soil surface.  Use a pot that’s only 2-3″ wider than your bulb(s). You could plant multiple bulbs in a large pot for a dramatic display but pack tightly, and a large container will require ample space in a sunny spot to grow on. Remember Amaryllis bulbs do not mind being pot bound. It may be 3-4 years  before it is necessary to move up into bigger pots, and/or divide.

 

 

 

 

Winter Wreaths: Thoughts and Tips

A 26″+ diameter wreath featuring selections of Elkhorn Cedar, Hinoki Cypress, Korean Arborvitae and Curly Willow.

I purposely titled this post Winter Wreaths, not  “Christmas” Wreaths. This isn’t a political statement but a simple acknowledgment that Winter Wreaths have pagan roots. At the Winter Solstice, the early Northern Europeans created wreaths to symbolize the circular rhythm of the seasons. Winter wreaths made from freshly cut greens will last well into February. There’s no need for red bows and Christmas tucks when you use beautiful plant material.

Detail of a wreath featuring Elkhorn Cedar, Cryptomeria and Hinoki Cypress.

Wreath making is a family tradition worth keeping. For years now, I’ve offered “The Day after Thanksgiving”  Wreath Making Workshop here at Avant Gardens (an alternative to mall shopping) using cuttings and branches gathered from our garden and nursery. Of course it helps that the many conifers we planted years ago have matured to give us ample material to work with (and I’m able to get in some much needed pruning at the same time!).

Many Hinoki Cypress branches in various shades of gold and green, some bearing delightful cones. (Note the leaf undersides facing up.)

So what are some of my favorite conifers to work with?  Early on I learned that Spruce and Fir, often used in commercial wreath production, did not prosper here in southern New England;  both prefer cooler summer climates. However, the many selections of Cedar do thrive: Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cv.), Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Korean Arborvitae (Thuja koraiensis glauca prostrata) and Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata)  offer a variety of texture in shades of gold to darkest green. If you live in warm winter climates, you  have different options…I want to make a wreath using various  asparagus ferns and semi tropical evergreens.

Notice I placed some of the conifer branches so that the back side faces up...it reveals a delicate tracery, and a lovely silver color in the case of Korean Arborvitae and Elkhorn cedar.   Last year our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana had an amazing blue berry set. Alas, this year was disappointing; there was no fruit to speak of and I worry about the poor birds who relish them. What will they feed on instead?

A wire box wreath form is covered with moss plus gathered dried fern leaves to create the base.

Our holly cultivars regularly produce a great berry set thanks to our pollinating bees. We grow ‘Blue Princess’ (Ilex x meserve cv) and  the smaller leaved Ilex x pernyi ‘Dr. Kassab’.  We have the native American Holly in the woods  at the back of our property, but they are a tad more prickly. I also use other broadleaf evergreens such as Boxwood, Inkberry, Laurel, Andromeda and even Ivy, but take note. Broadleaved evergreens desiccate quickly, especially indoors. To compensate I use a wreath base wrapped with moist sphagnum moss. Keep the moss hydrated and your holly wreath will stay fresh much longer.

Working clockwise, bunches of branches and stems bound on using 22 gauge wire. It is important to pull the wire tight as you work.

More and more people are finding the informality of foraged plant  material preferable.  Use woody plant stems with a wilder character, such as curly willow, rose hips, winterberry, or various colored osier dogwoods.  Search for moss and lichen covered twigs that may have fallen to the ground after a windstorm. Collect dried grasses and seed pods to add a variety of textures.

Let it be wild. Resist the urge to make your wreath too balanced and neat.

if you haven’t done so already, and are inspired, take a walk about your property to see what branches you can gather. Don’t hesitate to experiment; that’s what wakens your inner child and makes your wreath an original.

Note:  Please, do not harvest greens and cuttings from public spaces or private property without permission.

Haskell Public Gardens, a treasure preserved

An unexpected find, winter blooming Edgeworthia outside the Haskell office, under the canopy of a Japanese Maple

Greeting you at the property entrance: Emilia and Verbena bonariensis join silvery Artemisia in a pocket in front of a stonewall.

On an otherwise unassuming avenue in New Bedford MA is a  6 acre public garden that carries on the legacy of the  renowned nurseryman and garden maker, Allen C. Haskell.  The main greenhouses and nursery yard are now gone, but The Trustees for Reservations, who acquired the property in 2013, have preserved the main plantings and made the gardens open to the public free of charge 365 days a year. It is now a tranquil oasis enjoyed by local residents.

A towering Dawn Redwood underplanted with Hosta, a genus that. Allen Haskell avidly collected.

Numerous consultants were brought in to advise on what plantings should remain and how to deal with open space. Horticulturist Kristin McCullin has been the steward of the property since the beginning and her sensitivity to the details of Haskell’s original design is to be praised. That being said, Kristin has invited playful creativity by engaging local artists to collaborate with on the grounds.

The old glasshouses may be too expensive to heat these days, but artist Tracy Silva Barbosa turned these structures into an interactive colorful installation. I love the way the light filters through the colored panels creating multi-hued spotlights on the stonework.

Bring a picnic! There are various spots to pause and take in the flora and fauna.

If you live in southeastern New England and have never visited the property, you must. Visiting the area from afar? Put this garden on your agenda. The property is located at 787 Shawmut Avenue, New Bedford, MA . For more information on the Haskell Public Gardens and other Trustees Properties, visit their website. https://thetrustees.org/place/allen-c-haskell-public-gardens/

The Prettiest Grass…Melinus nerviglumis


Ruby Grass is really truly one of the prettiest ornamental grasses ever, especially when illuminated by end of the day light. Blue-green leaves form tidy clumps and in mid-late summer, ruby pink inflorescences are formed on 18-24” stems.  It likes full sun and heat, and although somewhat drought tolerant, prefers average moisture conditions. Besides offering a casual elegance to planting  beds or containers, Ruby Grass is a stunning addition to floral arrangements both fresh and dried.

Melinus nerviglumus is native to South Africa, and is evergreen where hardy (in zones 8-10). It grows quickly to flowering stage in areas with warm summers so don’t hesitate to use it as an annul accent. Clumps can be wintered over in a cold frame or protected spot that stays above freezing.

PS  We’ve seen this listed as both Melinus and Melinis in botanical literature, & to add to the confusion it used to be called Rhynchelytrum.

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The Late Asters that should be in your Garden

Symphyotrichum x Bill’s Big Blue’

Years ago, the only fall asters that were commonly available at nurseries were cultivars of New England Asters: ‘Purple Dome’,  ‘Alma Potschke’  and ‘Wood’s Blue’. I have to say they have regularly disappointed me…by the time they came into flower their lower leaves would turn brown and look so tarnished.  I learned that their “ugly legs” could be disguised by planting behind another plant so you only viewed the flower heads. These New England Asters bloomed in early-mid September and by this time of year (mid October) the show was over.

Over the years, I have discovered there were so many other showy asters to try,  including many other native species.  Some didn’t begin their show until mid October,  plus they did not suffer the “ugly legs” syndrome. (Light frosts were not a problem.) Let me talk up a few.

Symphyotrichum ‘Bill’s Big Blue’

Consider Symphyotrichum (Aster) Bill’s Big Blue’, a “nativar” selected by a CA nurseryman years ago.  It may take a year or two to achieve its capable height of 5′, but here it is in the latter half of October, billowing forth over a stone wall. (Blue is sometimes tricky to capture in photos, and it is actually more blue in person). The bumbles and honey bees are enjoying its late display.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

I’ve written about Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’, a small flowered October into November bloomer, in an early post.  1″ violet blue flowers appear in profusion on 18-24″ tall plants and please the bees too! Take note that this Aster spreads, so use it where a useful, late blooming groundcover will complement some brilliant fall foliage.

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindaii’

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’  is another late bloomer that reaches a 3-4′ height. Distinctive large tobacco-like basal leaves give rise to tall sturdy stems bearing clusters of periwinkle blue  flowers with abundant pollen. Plants do spread where happy, so pair with sturdy partner plants.

Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’

The native Aromatic Asters, Symphyotricum oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, and the slightly taller  ‘Raydon’s Favorite’  are becoming better known. One would easily overlook them in the nursery yard in spring as their foliage doesn’t command attention.  Come October, however, and look again…the plants are literally covered with 1 1/2″ blue flowers.  They also have good drought tolerance and are pollinator friendly.

Are you growing any late blooming Asters that should be in everyone’s garden?