Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Aster and the Pollinators - A Love Story for All Time

This time of year gives me a smile on my face and a warm, buzzy feeling - make that a warm, buzzy sound in my ears - every time I step out the front door during the day. The aromatic asters are in full bloom and, when the sun is shining, you can hear the contented sound of bees and flies from across the yard. The view above, taken today, is looking across my very summer-tattered front garden; most of the aromatic asters that you see blooming here are (probably) Radon's Favorite or seedlings.

If I walk near one of the lavender-coated mounds, a cloud of insects briefly swirls up into the air, before settling back down to the serious business of feeding on nectar and pollen.

Combined with a bright blue sky and a light breeze, it feels like my own little piece of heaven here on Earth.

Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is native to Kansas, although the varieties that I have planted in my front garden are, I believe, from Texas (Radon's Favorite), Texas via southwestern Pennsylvania (October Sky) and ?South Dakota? (Dream of Beauty). Be that as it may, they are all thriving and providing a wonderful fall feast for the local insect tribe.

At about 12" tall and shown above, on September 26th, Dream of Beauty is the shortest of the 3 varieties that I have, blooming the earliest for me. Instead of the purplish-blue (or lavender) of the other varieties, its flowers are actually a very pretty, light pink. These finished blooming 2-3 weeks ago now. They are my newest aromatic aster additions, having just been planted within the last 18 months. I bought them from High Country Gardens. (It amazes me that the newest little one, planted just this spring, survived the summer and actually BLOOMED this fall!)

At about 2' tall, October Sky is supposed to be the next tallest variety. Truthfully, I lost the labels to my October Sky and Radon's Favorite aromatic asters within a year of planting them, so I'm just guessing about which is which in my garden, based solely on height. Other than height, the plants and blossoms of these 2 varieties look identical to me. My 2' tall aromatic asters, which are therefore presumably October Sky, are just beginning to come into bloom now.

Radon's Favorite is the tallest variety I have planted, reaching about 2 1/2' tall. Time-wise, they seem to be blooming "in the middle" this year, after the shorter Dream of Beauty but before the 2' tall October Sky. That is, of course, assuming that the tallest aromatic asters I have in the garden are actually Radon's Favorite!

Here is a photo of aromatic aster in front of Wichita Mountains goldenrod, taken about a week ago. The lighting isn't very good, but it's one of my favorite plant combinations for both color and form. Last year, with a lot more water during the early part of the summer, the Wichita Mountains goldenrod was a little floppy and developed rust. This year, as dry as it's been, they are much more upright and their foliage is clean.

All of my aromatic asters survived this blistering hot, dry summer with almost no supplemental water. A few of them received a little extra water as we tried to establish the buffalo grass, but I never had to water any bed because these guys looked stressed.

If I faced the old conundrum of taking only one species of plant to a desert island, aromatic aster would be one of the finalists for me...but even as I write that, I realize what a stupid concept that would be. If I were stranded on a desert island, I'd want to try to figure out what was native there and garden with it!

So scratch that idea and just know that, if you garden anywhere this plant is native, I would HIGHLY recommend it for color, pollinator attraction, hardiness and just plain beauty. Give it a try, if you haven't already.


Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

First of all, I love your front yard. All that variety and flowers.
Asters are amazing pollinator attractors. I had to move some away from the back door because I had bees flying into the house too often. You have such a great collection. Obviously, asters are survivors (like the ones that found a way into my Bermuda lawn where they got no extra water and may have been walked on.) By the way, after moving my little asters, I spotted a front lawn down the street with tons of them. They were blooming their little hearts out. I need to check High Country Gardens for the ones you bought from them.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thank you, Sherlock! I've got enough space between the flowers and the front door (thanks to the porch) that I haven't had a problem with bees flying into the house, but I can sure see how it might be a problem!

So glad that you're already familiar with these guys. They are truly awesome, as far as I'm concerned.

Melanie said...

I love goldenrod. .and have fireworks (which isn't my favorite) and a longer blooming variety that escapes my mind right now! Your Wichita variety looks taller than mine. .Love it! GonSS just sent me a start of an aster this summer. It didn't bloom great, so I hope it does better next year! The caryopteris bushes I have are awesome pollinaters too. .TONS of bees and winged creature! Enjoyed

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I've looked at Fireworks several times, but decided not to add least for now. It is the prettiest in a large swath and, right now, I don't have a space that big that I want to give over to it.

If you can find it, an especially pretty goldenrod is elm-leafed goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) - a goldenrod for shade, believe it or not. It puts out wispy sprays of golden flowers that really light up a dark, shady area.