Friday, September 21, 2018

Undervalued Asters

In our area, asters fill the roadside ditches with beautiful flowers at this time of year.  So placed they are subjected to mowing by road crews.  This assault is taken in stride and those plants are presently in flower just on shorter stems.  The purple flowered plants are named New England Asters.  Purple is an admired color here so we have a wild ditch weed planted in the garden in front of the house.  Wild plants frequently have only a single stem but when placed in rich garden soil large clusters of stems follow.  These have held this ground for years and division would again be in order.  The question of where to plant the resulting divisions is one of the obstacles preventing responsible care of these plants.

One of the issues here is the height of the untended plants.  The long lower stems are now filled with dead leaves.  Without something shorter growing in front, the dead leaves are unsightly.  We did manage to prune the plant in the foreground.  Following the trim the plant looked ridiculous but it looks great now.  It would be sound planning to try and trim all of these plants early next summer.

This is a natural color mutation of a New England Aster.  For years I lusted after plants like this in the ditches next to the road to Norwich.  I was tempted to stop and dig one but that would have been a violation of the law.   Finally a single stemmed plant with this color flowers appeared on our land.  This cluster has been divided and we now have four plants just like this one.  Additional divisions need to be made but first new ground must be prepared for the resulting plants.  We are going to need a lot of new ground.

This plant grows alongside of the lane leading to the back acres.  Moving it has been considered but it remains where nature placed it.  If this plant's location was marked now, we could move it when new growth first appeared next spring.  It would be interesting to watch this wild plant respond to cultivation.  Perhaps next year will find this aster growing in an easier neighborhood.

This aster is growing among the pasture grass near the back woods.  The problem of separating the aster from the grasses has kept this plant growing in the wild.  There is no way that I will risk introducing more pernicious grasses into the gardens.  At the very least this plant would be required to spend a year or two in clear ground to make sure that all of the grass roots have been removed..

Our East Gate of the stone square has been temporarily closed by a Summer Sweet and a modified aster.  October Sky is the name of this aster variety.  Its natural tendency to grow tall has been replaced by an eagerness to grow wide.  A tiny mail order plant has given us three huge plants.  This one clearly needs to be divided again.

It seems that plants that are difficult to grow are prized while these easy to grow ones are largely passed by.  An aster garden is seen by many as one small step above cultivated dandelions.  Other's opinions have never shaped my actions and a larger aster garden is in the works.  These common weeds also serve a vital function now.  As the Monarch Butterflies are getting ready to fly south, few flowers remain to provide them with food at this critical time in their life cycle.  It pleases us to see butterflies feeding on our asters.

As September drew to a close, the wind shifted to coming from the north and the temperature dropped.  It appeared that the butterflies had begun their migration taking advantage of the air moving in the direction that they need to take.  Several factors impacted the Monarch population here this summer.  Sightings were common and that has not always been the case.  The number of butterflies on or near this aster is high.  They had to share the food with both yellow butterflies and bees.  Collisions were common resulting in short flights.  All quickly returned to the aster flowers to feed.   Our season has clearly changed and the number of Monarchs feeding on our plants made this day truly memorable.

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