Winter Plant Portrait-Asters

There are no other flowering plants that have been captured in pixels in the Fairegarden filing system with dates ranging from June to December besides Asters. This large plant family includes many garden worthy species, including our earliest bloomer of the lot, the New England Asters, Symphyotrichum novae angliae. We have blueish purple and pinky purple of these, ordered as seedlings from Seed Savers Exchange years ago. They have seeded all over and been moved to prime locations to take advantage of their color and form.

New this year is a very special plant named for our friend Ruth who owns Mouse Creek Nursery, a local treasure. Click to read the latest post about ithere-OOTS-Mouse Creek. Heterotheca camporum ‘Ruth Baumgardner’ is brilliant yellow and much favored by pollinators. It can be a bit floppy but will happily weave and bob with Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’.

Next up is Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’, research seems to indicate this one is still an aster for some reason. This sterile aster was added to the daylily hill in an attempt to add interest after the daylilies are finished blooming. We assumed that there would be babies galore, like all the other of this clan, wrongly it seems. But another has been added in hopes of a mass of blue to extend the interest there.

In an effort to add blue asters to our sea of native white ones, several species came to live in the gardens here, including S. laeve ‘Bluebird’. Blooming ealier than most, this is one of the strongest stemmed of the clan. It has been divided and spread in an effort to add color during the transition from summer to fall.

Here is where the name tags got mixed up and these blue asters are so similar that I cannot tell them apart. S. oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ and the Tennessee aster, Aster paludosus ssp. hemisphericus were both ordered from the native plant nursery Sunlight Gardens, three plants of each. They were planted willy nilly, one here one there, using the methodology known as plopping. This year the effort was made to plant the customary threesomes very close together, for better impact, not to mention easier identification. One tag can easily get lost, three might have a fighting chance of being found. Both of these plants are good bloomers.

Much easier to know and name is this passalong from kind Christopher, the blue wood aster, S. cordifolium. The emerging heart shaped leaves of the rosette in spring were a rich burgundy red, unlike the green narrow leaves of most of the other asters. It is tall and flowers over a long period in fall. We are hoping for babies of this one.

By October, the aster area is a beautiful patchwork quilt of blue and white blooms. Trying day after day to capture what the eye sees, we gave up, for this is a prime example of not only little leaf syndrome, but little flower syndrome as well. It was alive with happy buzzers.

In a close up then the full garden shot, October Skies shows what a good mixer he is with the pinkish sheffies that bloom at the same time. Two nice specimens were purchased in bloom at Mouse Creek to grace the gravel path that leads from the driveway to the back gardens.

We saved the best for last. Three Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’ pots came home with us on yet another trip out to Mouse Creek. We literally had to pick dozens of sleeping bumbles off the plants, not because I don’t like them, but didn’t want to get stung when they awoke to find themselves in the rear of the gas guzzler and had panic attacks. Butterflies were scarce in the Fairegarden this year, sad to say, but once these asters were planted, a monarch was seen nectaring within the hour.

Painted Ladies, honeybees, bumble bees and various other flying insects covered the new plantings. The lavender petals lasted well into late fall, bringing a smile whenever that pathway was taken. A chair was situated under the garage deck to simply sit and watch and enjoy the show. Good friend Gail also had given us a passalong Aster tataricus, not yet blooming size but planted in the same area with good intentions. It might be the gigantic species or it might be little Jindai, but it is welcome either way.

That brings us to the end, or the beginning depending on your perspective. The stalks are still standing, offering winter interest and hopes of seeding from the wind, snow, sleet, rain and critters to spread the word, or make that spread the love that the asters bring to the pollinator population.


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44 Responses to Winter Plant Portrait-Asters

  1. Darla says:

    It’s a big flower trapped in a little flower’s body! Seriously look at the beautiful colors of the Asters…Did I see Sedum poking it’s head up in the first photo? Everyone knows how I love Butterflies…already planning to raise more Monarchs this coming season.

    Hi Darla, thanks, what an apt description! I had to look again at the first photo, the background plants could be nearly anything since those New Englands have seeded nearly everywhere, a good thing, BTW. Let’s assume it is sedum. Lucky you with those fabulous Monarchs. We only saw a couple this year, there are never very many anyway, but they went straight to the Asters.

  2. Lovely post Frances. It is especially inspiring with our 5 degree temps outside. Your blue wood aster is lovely and if it is hardy I would happily welcome a bird that might carry seeds to me. You have captured the beauty and joy of asters with your beautiful photographs of the flowers and the butterflies that visit them. Great photos of the flutterbys. I hope you have many more fluttering around this year. Carol

    Thanks Carol. We love the blue aster that Christopher so generously shared, and do hope it seeds. The ones growing here naturally were all white. We have tried to add a good variety and hope for some intermingling. The photos do not do the scene justice, the camera could not capture the blue and white confetti of blooms that were vibrating with buzzers and flutters. Ah, a wonderful thought to get us through the winter, eh? πŸ™‚

  3. My only asters are passalongs from my aunt, big floppy plants, but I love them every fall when they are covered with bees and butterflies.

    Hi Carol, so nice to see you, thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear you have an aster with a family connection, it makes any plant special in our hearts. Although the asters can be considered messy and floppy, the pollinators are in lust with them. Here, we have planted them together to flop with each other for a good effect and making it easier for the buzzers, and humans to enjoy. πŸ™‚

  4. Randy says:

    Great posting I love asters! Trying to get my climbing aster to grow, might have to move it to a sunnier spot. I had 3 blooms last year.

    Hi Randy, thanks. A climbing aster sounds great. I will have to look into it. πŸ™‚

  5. Janet says:

    I lve the lightblue of the Bluebird one…what a nice variety of Asters!!

    Thanks Janet. Bluebird is the best at standing up by itself, and blooms sooner than most of the others, except the NE.

  6. mothernaturesgarden says:

    I always have some of the wild ones pop up somewhere.

    Hi Donna, they are everywhere here, the white ones that is. I wanted the blue and leave a few of the whites to blend in. Jindai is wonderful, very late and the flowers are larger and more plentiful, it would look great in your garden. πŸ™‚

  7. tina says:

    They sure are beautiful and quite adaptable!

    Thanks Tina. They seem to grow nearly anywhere here, sun or shade. I can’t say wet or dry, because there is no wet. πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Frances

    It’s the blue ones that do it for me.

    generally speaking they’re one of the good things about a fading summer. Nice to have self seeders. I’ve heard it said nature is the gardener and we the umpire.

    Hi Rob, thanks for visiting. I wanted the blues too, thinking the whites were *ordinary and weedy*. Having both colors really raised my opinion of the whites. Love that quote, and agree completely. πŸ™‚

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I don’t think of Asters as having so many color variations. You have some pretty ones. I really like the yellow one. I had no idea it was available.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. The yellow was new to me too, and the fact it is named for my friend Ruth makes it extra special. πŸ™‚

  10. Rose says:

    Thanks for this in-depth look at a lovely fall flower, Frances! I used to think asters were like the mums you saw for sale in the fall–mounded plants with small blooms. I do have a couple of those, but once I saw some native asters I realized that is what I really wanted. Thanks to Gail, I added a few more last fall–let’s hope they like their colder home. And thank you, too, for identifying my most commonly used garden methodology–“plopping.” I haven’t seen that term in the gardening books yet:)

    Thanks Rose, I felt the same as you, trying those dwarf asters available at the big box, with them never returning the next year. These taller ones are much hardier, even if they are a little floppy. Planting them close together in one spot helps them support each other. Plopping, a verb, also spelled plonking. HA πŸ™‚

  11. Call me a fan of asters. I wish I had added more of them this past year but I’ll divide some of the ones in the front this spring. The yellow one is very bright and cheery!

    Hi Dave, thanks I will. The yellow Ruth is a beauty, but is very lax. I wove her around Salvia Indigo Spires and the blue and yellow combo was perfect. The asters grow very well here in TN.

  12. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, I love these plants and can’t imagine ever gardening without them….Bee and butterfly magnets and several caterpillars eat the foliage. They are absolutely astonishing asters! Heterotheca camporum β€˜Ruth Baumgardner’ is gorgeous and I am so looking forward to seeing her bloom this next year…(Thank you for her and the sweet link). ‘Monch’ is an Old World aster and got to keep his name…our natives were bumped from the tribe. gail

    Thanks Gail. I hope Ruth blooms for you this year, find her some sun, if possible for the best chance. I know how wonderful your field of these wonderful flowers are, truly inspirational. Do take care now, no more typing! πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Frances, You have the sunshine for asters… and the camera to take the photos! Thanks for sharing the colorful variety at your place! Perhaps, someday, I’ll be in a sunny spot again and wish I’d taken better notes! Hopefully we’ll still be blogging. πŸ™‚

    Hi Shady, thanks. If or when you get to a sunny gardening spot, will you change your name? The asters are very difficult to capture, the sun is so bright when they bloom, even standing between the sun and the flower, which is the only way to get a macro. I hope you will continue to blog, well into your dotage. HA πŸ™‚

  14. I love asters, thanks for the reminder of what was here & yet to come!!

    Hi Linda, thanks. Glad you liked the out of season post. πŸ™‚

  15. nancybond says:

    I’m pretty sure that I love the wild asters best. πŸ™‚ I like that asters are late bloomers and I also love the wash of colour they give the countryside when everything else is starting to wane. Beautiful!

    Hi Nancy, thanks. It is only in the last couple of years that we have been able to see the beauty in the wild asters, before then they were just weeds, in my yard anyway. Allowed to stand over winter, they are still adding to the scenery when many other plants have collapsed into a heap.

  16. Frances you are going to have a lot of hanky panky going on in that garden full of asters making it very difficult to ID the progeny. Don’t worry about the S. cordifolium setting seed. It will. That would even be the best aster for Shady Gardener. It blooms here in the shade just fine though the deeper the shade the fewer the blooms.

    Thanks Christopher, for the plant and the advice. I am happy to think of the mixing up of genetic material in the garden, by all the plants. It makes for hearty and healthy, has been my experience with the dianthus, among others. Some of our wild white asters crop up under the pine trees, very dry shade in there. Like you say, a little less flowering but still worthwhile.

  17. Asters make me very happy too, Frances, so you can imagine this post brought a big smile to my face. You’re bang on about it being hard to tell one apart from another in a lot of cases. My botany professor at Ag. College, Dr. Albert Roland, was the most amazing plant identifier I ever met. He could id an aster from a fragrant, I swear, though in later years he did have to use one of the binocular microscopes to confirm things. I will never have that competency, so I just blithely lump the unknowns into ‘wild asters’ and ‘asters suffering from lost label syndrome.’ πŸ˜‰

    Hi Jodi, thanks. It makes me happy to think of you smiling! These plants are getting harder and harder to keep track of, even with the tags next to them. Something somehow happens to those tags, they break off, get buried under mulch or get pushed out of the ground by the heaving that happens during the winter every year here. Looking them up online often doesn’t help either, there will be different looking flowers with the same names. Your professor must have been a good one. Knowing the name is nice, but not a necessity, thankfully. πŸ™‚

  18. Alice Joyce says:

    I miss growing asters…! They were much appreciated in my Chicago garden. Thanks for sharing these lovelies.
    fyi your comment on succulents, I’ve just reviewed the new Succulent Container Gardens book, and it’s full of ideas for growing and overwintering tender plants. Some of mine need protection, too, but they’re worth it.

    Hi Alice, thanks for stopping by. And thanks too for the succulent info. I have a pot that would be perfect and a spot that would do for wintering over, cool, with light from a skylight. I agree, they are worth it. πŸ™‚

  19. Lona says:

    Frances I have only one aster left in my garden. My first attempt at them was not what I wanted. It may have been the variety or my growing blunders but they were floppy and always lying down for me. I never even thought to see if there were sturdier varieties until reading this posting.

    Hi Lona, thanks for stopping by. Most of the asters are quite floppy. Bluebird and Jindai both stand up well, but the rest would be sited where there are neighbors for them to lean on, or so densely planted they lean on each other. πŸ™‚

  20. Catherine says:

    Seeing all these pretty varieties of asters reminds me I need to plant more. I’ve got Monch and moved it in the fall to a sunnier location, hopefully more butterflies will find it now.

    Hi Catherine, thanks for visiting. Monch is a good one, I nearly killed mine by trying to divide it. I won’t make that mistake again. The asters are good for continuing the show after the daylilies are done, among others.

  21. The European Asters got to stay “Asters” purportedly because the Italian Aster (Aster amellus) was the first one names. ‘Monch’ is a frikartii, from Switzerland, so it gets to be an Aster. I grew it at my old garden, but it didn’t survive my attempt to grow it here. My attempts to divide ‘Bluebird’ haven’t been an unqualified success. I’d love more of them. If the Aster tataricus that you got from Gail isn’t the giant one, I’ll be happy to give you some of mine. Every spring I yank out large chunks of it.

    Thanks for clarifying the names, MMD. We’ll see how my borrowing from the edges of Bluebird to replant elsewhere worked out this year about late summer. I hope to have the giant aster here, thanks for the generous offer. I might take you up on it once the one Gail gave me starts to grow. πŸ™‚

  22. Hello Frances,

    Your post shows why I love Asters so much. I love their untidy growth habit and their pretty flowers.

    Hi Noelle, thanks for visiting. The asters are a wild group, but we love how they attract the pollinators and bloom like crazy. πŸ™‚

  23. Anna says:

    Thanks for such an informative post Frances. I grow ‘Monch’,’Little Carlow’ and ‘Photograph’ and would not be without them. As well as colour they are a magnet for the bees and butterflies. I would like one or two more so will be researching those mentioned here πŸ™‚

    Thanks Anna, glad you enjoyed it. I have seen Little Carlow and might add it if we come upon it again. We did add one little white one last year, no photos of it, almost a groundcover. Of all the ones mentioned here, Jindai would be the one I would recommend. But any would be worth growing. πŸ™‚

  24. Hola Frances, so beautiful your wide range of Asters!!!! In October you are in Autumn time, right?? I think I will try asters too, very, very beautiful.
    Maria Cecilia

    Hi Maria, thanks. Yes, October is mid Autumn here, you are just entering fall in Chile, I assume? Look for the asters, the bees and butterflies will thank you. πŸ™‚

  25. I love my asters, the bees and butterflies love them too. What more could you possibly want from a plant?

    Lovely post Frances, very colourful which is just what we need at the mo.

    Hi YE, thanks. I agree, this is a plant for every garden. It is cheering to see healthy growing things in sun shiney warm weather about now. πŸ™‚

  26. Hi Frances,
    Just happened upon your blog. Very nice. Did you ever figure out the differences between the 2 Asters that lost their tags? Aster paludossus has a basal rosette of long narrow leaves, and many few-branched, arching stems to about 2 1/2′ long. Aster October Skies has smaller less defined basal clumps but has many semi-woody, heavily branched stems. the flowers of the later tend to be a lighter shade of lavendar blue than those of A. paludossus. For us, A. paludossus also starts flowering maybe a month earlier. I hope this clears up the mystery. Keep up the good work, Andy from Sunlight Gardens

    Hi Andy, thanks so much for this information. I could not tell the difference with the rosettes, but will be able to tell which one blooms a month earlier! They will then be marked. I was amazed at the size of the plants that were shipped when we ordered these, the roots were bursting out of the pots. I will definitely order from you guys again. πŸ™‚

  27. Sweet Bay says:

    I love asters too. The Blue Wood Aster is lovely.

    I’ve ordered from Sunlight Gardens a couple of times before. I love their catalog and selection, especially the native azaleas.

    Hi Sweet Bay, glad to hear it, on both counts! Most of my purchases have been from Sunlight’s stand at plant sales around the Knoxville area. I would highly recommend them to anyone and will be placing an order myself soon. They do have a grand selection of the azaleas, at prices affordable.

  28. sequoiagardens says:

    You really set me thinking with this post, Frances! My only asters, lovely deep blue, were a farewell gift from our domestic servant from her garden when we left Grahamstown 25 years ago, and I’ve had them in every garden since. But in this garden they are tucked away and not thought about until they bloom. They, and others, need my attention!

    Hi Jack, thanks so much. Thinking is always good. The asters do make good companions for the showier flowers and the pollinators love them. I love the story of a plant you take with you. πŸ™‚

  29. Grace says:

    Hi Frances~~ There are so many reasons to love asters. I think for me a huge reason is the fact that the bees swoon over them. I love your butterflies enjoying the asters.

    Hi Grace, thanks. So true about the bees. Once considered weeds here, the asters have been elevated in position, but many still must be pulled since we do wish to grow a few other things. πŸ™‚

  30. Beckie says:

    Frances, such welcome shots of color! I am tired of the not so white now snow cover and long for blooms in the garden. Your asters and planting method are wonderful. I often employ that particular method myself. πŸ™‚ Hopefully all of yours will come back next year and spread just the way you want them to.

    Hi Becky, thanks for visiting, I am so glad to see you! The asters are quite hardy and reliable here, the white ones pop up all over the place. They were the perfect plant to anchor the piece of driftwood we brought back from the beach, as you suggested! The blue and white are like the flowing waters of the ocean. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  31. I do love asters–the buds, blooms, foliage, and seedheads. The only thing I don’t like is the new genus name for some of the asters, which I still have to look up each time because it just doesn’t roll of the tongue (or keyboard!).

    They keep doing that to us, don’t they Monica! So annoying. I am working on getting the hang of, but if they aren’t changing all the names, just some, I will always to have to look it up. At least all the mums got changed, didn’t they?

  32. Jean says:

    Ah, all are so very beautiful. I think I especially like the ones with the mixed up names. They seem so “aster-y” to me. Sorry about your butterflies this year. Mine seemed to show up WAY late. But at least they showed up.

    Hi Jean, thanks. The photos may be deceiving, they are all very astery except maybe the yellow one, tiny flowers on wiry stems. The monarch in these shots was our only one who hung around for more than a day. We are not on the flight path, but usually get more than that. All numbers were down except the white and yellows. Hope this year is better.

  33. linda says:

    Hi Frances, they’ll always be asters to me! You have such a nice variety of them. β€˜Ruth Baumgardner’ is delightful.

    Hi Linda, thanks. They, and the mums will always be those to me too, but I want to write the correct name for the blog, for anyone doing research.

  34. Liisa says:

    Beautiful photos, Frances. It looks as though Mouse Creek is truly a local treasure. Love the New England Asters, Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ and S. laeve ‘Bluebird.’ What a lovely patchwork quilt of color and blooms!

    Hi liisa, thanks. Mouse Creek is wonderful, and Ruth a good friend. I like the asters all mixed up too, patchwork quilt is such an apt description! πŸ™‚

  35. skeeter says:

    Ah, your pics bring warmth to my chilly bones… Warming up here in GA so hopefully, you will be warming as well….

    Hi Skeeter, thanks. It is warmer today, finally!!! I was able to get out and do some much needed clean up, read much needed exercise! πŸ™‚

  36. Joanne says:

    Such a visual treat to brighten this cold snowy evening. Is that a Cericis Forest Pansy Frances?

    Hi Joanne, thanks. I had to go check out the tree in the post. I do have a Forest Pansy, but it was not shown in any of these images. The tree with the red leaves is a pink dogwood showing its fall color, Cornus florida.

  37. Kate says:

    Hi, Frances!
    I go to great lengths to encourage the wild Asters to populate our meadow. They’re not as tough as other wildflowers so I help them out by stacking the odds in their favor with extra water. I also have several nursery-bought varieties and now, I must have a yellow one! Would be a lovely contrast to all the pinks and purples. πŸ™‚

    Hi Kate, your meadow sounds delightful! The asters here do not need any help, they sprout up in the midst of thick grass, or the gravel path and everywhere in between. I am hoping that some of the blue ones will do the same. This is my first year for the yellow, so don’t know if it will reseed, but assume it is plenty hardy here. It would be a lovely addition, I agree. πŸ™‚

  38. joey says:

    Your asters are lovely, Frances, and perfect for your garden. Are you enjoying this welcome heat wave (37ΒΊ here)?

    Hi Joey, thanks. And yes, finally it has warmed up some here, above freezing, but the birdbaths and shady ground are still frozen. A little more heat, please. πŸ™‚

  39. VW says:

    What a helpful post for anyone considering asters – it’s so nice to hear which are more are less floppy, which propagate themselves or not, etc. I just ordered some rose daisy-form asters from Bluestone Perennials in hopes of adding more color to the late summer/fall front yard. My Walker’s Low nepeta is still blooming its head off then, and the Rozanne geraniums, and I’m hoping to add Crocus speciousus. So the blues are covered, or else I would definitely be tempted by your blue asters.
    Oh, and thanks for a chuckle over the planting method called plopping!

    Hi VW, thanks. The asters are interesting, and so many are floppy, but those just need to be sited near a strong neighbor that they can lean and weave into. Your lineup for fall sounds wonderful. We can’t seem to get over that bad plopping habit, but we are trying! πŸ™‚

  40. Lola says:

    Great pics. Love those asters. May try some this yr in my garden. New neighbors cut trees so my garden will be more sunny so I will have to hunt for more shade. I hope he’s a gardener.

    Hi Lola, thanks. I hope your neighbor is a gardener too, that would be way cool! These asters love sun, but can take some shade, so you should be able to grow them. The bees and butterflies will thank you. πŸ™‚

  41. leavesnbloom says:

    I think that asters are a great asset to the Autumn garden. I have quite a few but have never seen a yellow one before. Over in the USA do you get troubled by mildew on the plants?

    Thanks Leaves, me too. I have not noticed any mildew on the asters here. We are quite sunny and open, with excellent drainage. In drought years some things look sad, but this past year was back to normal rainfall. If there is mildew on anything, I have not noticed it. Except the lilac.

  42. I just copied one of your sentences, and now, I’m going to see about pasting it here. I’ve never done that before. Here goes: “They were planted willy nilly, one here one there, using the methodology known as plopping.” I love that as well as all your fun asters! I think willy nilly and hodge podge are my style in many things I do, gardening to housework.

    Hi Sue, good work on the pasting, it does make life easier. I used a computer for many years without realizing about that too. Since we didn’t learn computer in school, but had to self teach, it’s a wonder I can do anything. As for willy nilly hodge podge, I am normally very organized in most things, very methodical, but when it comes to plants, something comes over me. I am working on correcting that, but losing the battle. πŸ™‚

  43. catmint says:

    Hi Frances, never heard of the planting method you call plopping! But it’s my favoured method. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always worth a try. And I do love those generous self seeders. It’s much easier to move or give away unwanted seedlings than to try to coax reluctant plants to grow. cheers, catmint

    Hi Catmint,thanks for visiting. The plopping method might go by other names in Oz, but I believe it to be a worldwide practice. You are right about the volunteers, I am tired of struggling with some things and have decided to go with what wants to be here. πŸ™‚

  44. Dave Baird says:

    Two fairie gardens? Since 1986 difference singular (Fairie Garden and plural Fairie Gardens.
    Nice blog!

    Hi Dave, thanks. No second “I” in my Faire garden, unlike yours. Although we do have fairies in the garden here. πŸ™‚

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