Sunday, September 29, 2013

Around the Garden – and Through the Asters

 My Latin-loving colleagues may recognize the tip of the pen to the phrase “Per aspera ad astra” – through adversity to the stars. The aster, so-called for its star-like composite flowers, is not a difficult plant to grow; in fact, it’s hard to keep it from growing. But mastering the naming of the aster and its kin has been a real trial.

The hot pink variety shown at right is known variously as a New England Aster ‘Alma Potschke’ or as Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke'.  Those who learned their plant classifications a few years ago know it as a member of the Compositae genus, a name now abandoned except in old textbooks.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful plant, whether left to grow to 30 or more inches tall, or pinched back over the summer to form a shorter, bushier plant. (My experience is that pinching back results in fewer flowers – and also results in masses of cuttings that a diligent gardener would tuck into some peat-and-vermiculite to create lots more plants.)

In the picture at left, a honeybee is harvesting nectar. Bumblebees are busy as well – but they land so forcefully that only a very good camera can capture the flowers swaying and bobbing under the bees' bulk.

Like their ubiquitous cousins, the mums (which did a switcheroo from Chrysanthemum to Dendranthema to Chrysanthemum, much like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince) the asters are a sure sign of fall. Fortunately, they don’t seem to mind the vagaries of New England weather, and thrive whether we have monsoons or drought.  As with mums, however, best results come from spring planting – those showy big box store plants should probably be treated as annuals, since they are unlikely to take root if planted now.
A few more signs that fall is upon us: some heirloom tomatoes (possibly Black Russians) seem unlikely ever to ripen unless brought indoors and wrapped in newspaper. 

The Winterberries are full of fruit, while the young Weeping Hemlock below, right, is finally producing cones.

 The Katsura tree at left has yet to turn its sulfur yellow color – some aficionados claim the yellow leaves smell like bubblegum. I prefer the summer color, when the green leaves contrast with the rose-colored petioles.

  At right, a small Heptacodium miconioides (Seven-sons plant) has foliage that easily competes with the dainty seven-petaled flowers.)

The feckless squirrels are madly planting hickory trees again – they leave the shells near my patio plants, and next spring I will find a baby tree in the midst of a Jade plant. Better that than marauding the crocus bulbs, I guess.

 The coming week promises a few summery days – perhaps enough to keep the tomatoes ripening. But soon enough, the robins and starlings will swoop down and demolish the dogwood’s bright berries – and when a few flights of Canada geese honk by, we’ll know what lies ahead of us.

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