This week in my garden
Asters are still the stars in the autumn garden–this is New England Aster-formerly known as Aster novae-angliae and is now Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. The most colorful and best known of the species asters, its intense purple flowers bloom from early September until the end of October. Growing 3-4’ tall, in the garden, it is likely to fall over. Whacking it back by half at the end of June will cause it to branch out and become fuller and not quite so tall. Adaptable, it grows in prairie, wetlands and ditches, and along roadsides and railroad tracks.
Sometimes it has fuchsia flowers–this is self-seeded.
The tiny leafy, green linear foliage of Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is indeed heath-like. Clusters of bright white, gold-centered, 1/4” daisies form plumes at the top of 1-3‘ stems in September and October. In nature it is found in dry or mesic prairie.
Only growing 1-3’ in the prairie, the beautiful, blue blossoms of Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum leave) are over my head next to the entry trellis, a sunny south exposure. Found in both prairie and woodland edges, It’s easy to identify by its stem-clasping leaves
Short’s Aster, a denison of savannas and woodlands, is an aggressive seeder; but when late August, September and October roll around, I’m thrilled to see all that blue in partly shady areas.
Plumes of lavender-blue blossoms rise 2-4’ tall or more above elongated, heart-shaped leaves, lighting up dark corners in woodland and other shady places.
So what else besides asters is interesting?
Grasses, of course. Prairie or Northern Dropseed (Sporobolis heterolepis) is beginning change color.
Silky Rye (Elymus villosus) adds interest to woodlands and shady gardens. Run your fingers up the stem through the brush at the top–it does, indeed, feel silky.
The tall- 2’-6’- candelabras of Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) contrast with the bushy New England Aster. It grows in sun or part shade, in bloom in July and August.
Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) begins to bloom in June and continues all summer. Even in October, its flat top flower heads at the top of 2-3’ stems are a handsome addition to a prairie garden.
Mr. Grasshopper on the Purple Coneflower button seedpods. Spent plumes of Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) on the left. Showy Goldenrod blooms in September.
The seedpods of Redbud (Cercis canadenses) fringe its branches, adding fall and winter interest.
The berries of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) are ”an iridescent blue which beggars all description,” say Swink & Wilhelm in Plants of the Chicago Region. A woodland plant, it is frequently found on northeastern-facing slopes. Its compound scalloped leaves form a loosely layered 1-2’ clump. Its spring flowers are insignificant.