New England Aster
Linnaeus named the aster after the Latin word for “star,” and it’s certainly an appropriate description for the numerous daisy-like flowers covering this durable American native. Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, or New England aster, produces masses of small pink, white, violet, blue or lavender blooms cover the plant in late summer and early fall. Cultivars range from 1 to 5 feet in height, and all prefer a well-drained soil in a full-sun location. Because they are such exuberant growers, asters benefit from division at least every other year. Unless you pinch them back, as you would chrysanthemums, you will likely need to stake taller varieties to prevent them from flopping. ‘Alma Potschke’, with flowers of warm, vivid pink, is a favorite cultivar. The tall 4- to 5-foot tall ‘Hella Lacy’ has single blue-lavender flowers. This cultivar was discovered by American garden writer Allen Lacy and named after his wife. The violet-blue blooms of ‘Purple Dome’ make an excellent contrast with gold and orange chrysanthemums. At only 18 to 24 inches high,'Purple Dome' has the added advantage of requiring no staking. Zones 3-9.
Boltonia asteroides, also called doll’s daisy or false aster, is a magnificent presence in the back of the border come September. Reaching 5 to 6 feet in height and spreading from 2 to 4 feet, it enjoys the same conditions as its close relative the aster. This is a tough, undemanding plant that requires little beyond division every few years to keep it in bounds. If desired, you can cut it back by a third in early summer to control its height. The grayish-green lance-shaped leaves are pleasing through the entire season and unlike asters, the foliage remains attractive even in a dry summer. The two best known cultivars are the 4-foot high ‘Snowbank’, with flowers of pure white, and ‘Pink Beauty’, with blooms of palest pink on a more lanky 5-foot plant. Zones 3-10.
Gardeners with a semi-shady spot that is moist and well-drained will enjoy the strong yet delicate blooms of the early fall-blooming Anemone japonica, or Japanese anemone. Most varieties are less than 3 feet tall, and are available with single, double or semi-double blooms of white, pink and lavender. The poppy-like flowers add movement as they dance in the wind on long stems, and stand up well to rain. At a time of year when little else is blooming, gardeners appreciate the fact that Japanese anemones flower over a long period. A. x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ has large, single white blossoms flushed with pink. A. x h. ‘September Charm’ has single silvery-pink flowers with dark pink on the underside. As its name suggests, A. tomentosa ‘Robustissima’ is a particularly easy-to-grow variety, with single flowers of soft pink and foliage reminiscent of a grape leaf. Left on the plant, the seed puffs add winter interest to the garden. Zones 4-8.
A. japonica 'Honorine Jobert'
A. japonica 'September Charm' A. tomentosa 'Robustissima'
The helenium, or Helen’s flower, shares a color palette with the marigold, featuring brilliant flower shades of yellow, gold, copper, red, brown and mahogany. The blooms are daisy-like, with brown center discs. Reaching 2 to 5 feet high but only 1 to 2 feet wide, heleniums are slender, upright growers that look best when planted in groups of three or five. Pinching the tips of stems back in spring or early summer will help encourage the plants to become more bushy. Helenium is easy to grow in a sunny spot and not fussy about soil. ‘Moerheim Beauty’ features petals of brownish-red on a 3-foot tall plant. The brick red blooms of ‘Indian Summer’ last well into September. Zones 3-8.
In "Late Bloomers Too: More Perennials for Your Autumn Garden," I'll describe some more unusual perennials for increasing the beauty of your fall landscape.
Thumbnail photo by the author
DGMember photos by Aphthona, ngam, bigcityal, mystic, poppysue, mgarr, daryl, Kruch72, galanthophile