Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Frenzy

Every fall, round about this time, there are three things that just about drive me into a frenzy.

The first one is Beavers. I know we are supposed to admire their industriousness, but I wish they had some sense to go with it.  Every fall yet another pair of hopeful young beavers, bride and groom of the toothy set, decide to set up housekeeping in the marsh. Every fall they scour the edges for edibles to store for the winter. They mow down whatever poplars, maples, ashes or birches have managed to become large enough to have visible bark. There are no longer any pale or white-barked trees within dragging distance of my marsh or the beaver pond, and there haven't been for a long time.

Every January they run out of food.

The second thing that drives me into a frenzy is leaves. New leaves on plants that recover from August in the cool of September, so clean, so tender.... glorious red leaves appearing on the sumacs... leaves whirling down when a gust of wind shakes the maples... bright yellow leaves picking out the milkweeds along the driveway... each leaf I see seems more beautiful and magical than the last. I come home from a walk clutching handfuls of  leaves and with yet more pictures of leaves on my camera. In the pottery studio I press leaves into clay and make leaf-shaped pickle dishes (anything can hold a pickle), and make bowls and plates with leaf designs on them. For a few weeks, I am in love with leaves.

The third thing that drives me into a frenzy is asters. Quite a few asters (now re-named Symphyotrichum by the taxonomists) are native to the Ottawa Valley and quite a few non-native ones are sold in the nurseries, so we have a wealth of asters to enjoy. Just looking at one species, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, our New England Aster, we have a lot of choices. I've been collecting forms of S. novae-angliae for a while now and have 6 or 7 different types.

The reddest one on the left is one I purchased. It is called 'Andenken an Alma Potschke' which is a bit of a mouthful so I just call her Alma. Dear Alma is certainly different, but I find she blooms a bit later than the others some years she misses the party.

The one the bee is enjoying is pure white. The buds are a soft yellow, the foliage is light green, the stems are slightly lighter green. No red or blue pigment anywhere in this one. It's one of the tallest ones, too, reaching 6' easily.

The middle picture is the most common colour, a lovely reddish violet you have to call Amethyst. This is the perfect colour to stand out among the yellows, reds and russets of autumn.

The pink form is also fairly common, although this one is paler than most.

I have one plant that starts white, with a yellow centre, then darkens to pale mauve with a reddish centre. I'm suspecting some hanky-panky by its parents although in all other ways it is a typical New England Aster.

The last one is semi-double. It has more than the usual number of petals (really ray flowers), but not on every head. About half the heads on the plant are normal, the other half have extra petals. Does that make it a semi-semi-double?

New England Asters are absolutely no trouble to grow, in fact you may find the biggest problem is stopping them from growing, and no autumn garden should be without them. If the leggy stems bother you (the lower stem leaves are usually dried up by the time the plant blooms, this is perfectly normal), plant something shorter in front of them. If their height, and they can be tall, is a problem, shorten the growing stems a bit in early June. They will branch, have more blooms, and be shorter. They may bloom a week later, though.

Then there are the mosses..... wait, that's four things. Maybe later, right now I have to go and cool my head.


  1. I'm also a fan of asters. The bumblebees are going crazy over them this year, and other little insects are visiting them too. The aster with the yellow center that turns purple grows here (eastern ont.) as well. I think it simply matures to the purple colour.. Its stems are stiffer and thinner than other asters, and overall the plant is shorter. I don't have any pink asters but I have a pale lavender one of similar shape that blooms earlier than the amethyst or magenta ones.

    1. Well Jenny, be cautious! A number of native asters - S. lateriflorum, S. ontarione, S. lanceolatum and others, have centres that start yellow and darken to brown or purplish brown. The one you refer to is likely Calico Aster, S. lateriflorum. The one I'm talking about in my post is definitely a colour form of S. novae-angliae. Then there are a number of non-native asters sold in nurseries.... and they hybridize with the others.... asters are very confusing! I'd love to see your pale lavender one.