Peak Aster26th September 2018 • Places to Visit • Daniel Carruthers
If you harbour doubts about the usefulness of asters in the garden, can I recommend a visit to Waterperry Gardens where the borders are made brilliant with these vibrant autumn flowers. Just at the point when their summer companions are fading, they are in full fig, along with salvias, heleniums and ornamental grasses.
Waterperry, just outside Oxford, has an interesting history. In the early 20thcentury it became the Waterperry Horticultural School for Ladies, under the tuition of Beatrix Havergal, finally closing in 1971. Its current owners have kept the gardens open, retaining the horticultural staff who still run the day classes established by Miss Havergal.
Anyway, back to the asters. Rather like dahlias, they spent many years when they were out of fashion, but with the advent of prairie-style planting they are back in favour. One of the reasons they fell out of favour was their vulnerability to powdery mildew, which ruined their appearance. The good news is that the New England asters – the novae-angliae cultivars have good mildew-resistance, whilst the novae-belgii varieties are more likely to succumb. In my own garden – even after this long, hot, dry summer and my light, sandy soil, my novae-angliae asters are still looking healthy and glossy-leaved. At Waterperry, several caught my eye. Deepest purple ‘Helen Picton’ is on my want list, but the plants in the nursery were so tall that I resisted and hope to find it at the Great Dixter Autumn Plant Fair on October 6th-7th where I also hope to find the extremely pretty pink ‘Fellowship’. I did come away with the lovely ‘Lutetia’.
By the way, while ‘aster’ or Michaelams daisies remain in common use, there has been a lot of reclassification going on and the North American asters are now botanically classified as ‘symphyotricom’.
I picked up some useful information at Waterperry about how and where to grow asters. The New England asters have a tall habit and when grown in a sheltered border against a wall or fence, will need staking. However, when grown in the open e.g. an island bed, the movement of the wind through the plants will make the plants shorter and sturdier, so staking is not required. This is more like their natural prairie habitat.
The Magic Apple Tree
Waterperry Gardens are equally well known for their apple growing and the ultimate example of this is their multi-grafted family tree that grows an astonishing forty-five different varieties. Apparently the world-record is over sixty varieties on one tree, but quite how they find space for that many grafts is a mystery to me. The tree is mainly an exercise in giving students the opportunity to learn how to graft, but laden as it is with fruit, it is truly a wonder to behold.