Event date: 24th October 2016

Write up by Christine Boulby

The lights were on, the chairs set in the huge semi circle because our talk was without slides. Instead we saw a great big bucket stuffed full of plant samples, and everyone eyed up the one they wanted to know more about. Helen Picton holds the National Collection of autumn flowering asters, so it was appropriate that she had lots of those in the bucket, but the contents of that bucket were not all asters, and anyway, as she told us, lots of them are no longer called asters.

The nursery has been in existence for 110 years, and almost from the beginning it has been headquarters for autumn flowering asteraecae. First bred by Ernest Ballard and later by her grandfather, her asters have enjoyed popularity and a lack thereof over the past century by the fickle gardening public. But the colour they provide at a time of year when precious little else is blooming make them important contenders for aspace in any Hardy Planter’s garden. The Picton Garden was laid out as an autumn garden all that timeago, and planted to make the most of the asters they cherish. Having viewed pictures of it on their web site (www.autumnasters.co.uk) it is certainly worth going to, if you are over that way at this time of year!


The small trees and shrubs were planted purposely to set off the asters, all providing strong autumn colours over a long period, and then we were treated to explanations of the wide range of asters from very small to very tall, each with its own valuable attributes. So there was something for people with small gardens, for people with large gardens, and even for people with small gardens but large ideas (like me).

A stem from Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’ was held up, demonstrating the value it holds in autumn colour and as a perfect backdrop for so many of the asters in the collection, but also Acer rubrum ‘Schlesingii’ and shrubs such asViburnum cassinoides, Photinia davidiana andCallicarpa ‘Profusion’ were shown, followed by a number of grasses and herbaceous plants.

The asters shown included Aster trinervius andAster ageratiodes ‘Starshine’. The asters weknow as Aster novae angiae are now calledSymphyotrichum, one of them she showed us was Symphyotrichum eurybia. Symphyotrichum‘Purple Dome’, we were told, was found growing in the wild in N. America. It needs lots of sun.


Symphyotrichum ‘Purple Dome’ © Drew Avery


Apparently, this N. American aster family is known to have ‘bare bottoms’ so should be planted mid to backof any border so the unsightly bits are not in view. So many were shown that I lost track and without slides and the names on them, I found it hard to take notes. So if you want to know more about specific ones, you will need to visit the web site and browse the comprehensive catalogue.

She did talk about a number of other late flowering plants that complement the aster plantings -Chrysanthemum, Rudbeckia, Saxifraga fortunei, Cyclamen, Colchicum, Crocus and Actea before closing with a mention of a book on asters, co written by Helen herself and her father, Paul entitled ‘The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters’ by Timber Press. Thank you Helen for a splendid talk, we all enjoyed itimmensely!