Gardening in Shade – Harbingers of Fall – Part IV – Asters, Part 2

In addition to the ones that I grow (see Asters, Part I) in my USDA zone 7 garden, there are many other aster species and cultivars that can provide color in your garden.

Actually, although I think of asters as end of the season plants, some, like Aster alpinus, flower earlier in the season.

Aster alpinus (Alpine Aster)

Flowering in late spring or early summer, this small — six to twelve inch (15 – 30cm) tall native of the mountains of Europe, Asia and the western North America is a great plant for the front of the border or the rock garden. It is rated hardy from USDA zones 4 to 9, but does best where winters are cold. They prefer well-drained, alkaline soil and need sun.

Some of the species varieties are:

dolomiticus, found on the Balkan Peninsula gets eight inches (20 cm)tall and has foliage with fine hairs held flatly against it;
polycephalus, found in Switzerland has several flower heads on each stem with the terminal heads larger than the lateral ones;
speciosus, found in Central Asia, gets up to twenty inches (50.8cm) tall and has larger flower heads than the species of a dark violet color;
Wolfii, also native to Switzerland can get to one foot (30.4cm) or more in height and has blue flowers.

There are also several cultivars, some with semi-double flowers:

‘Albus’, of course, has white flowers;
‘Coeruleus’, which has blue flowers and gets ten inches (25cm) tall;
‘Roseus’ has pale rose flowers and is six inches (15cm)tall;
‘Rubra’ has rosy-purple flowers;
‘Superbus’ has larger and more showy heads of purple flowers;
‘Dark Beauty’ gets six to twelve inches (15 – 30.4cm) tall and has deep blue flowers;
‘Goliath’ gets fifteen inches tall and has soft blue flowers;
Happy End’ gets twelve inches tall and has semidouble lavender flowers.

Aster alpigenus

This is another alpine aster, native to the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. It gets seven inches (17.8cm) tall when in flower. Hortus III lists one variety, Hayenii, said to have more slender stems with leaves reaching four inches long and native to Eastern Oregon and north east Nevada to western Wyoming and Montana. I have not run across any cultivation information, but have to assume from the native locations and gravel soil in the photographs that this is a definite alpine and would require scree conditions and cold winters.

Aster amellus (Italian Aster)

Aster amellus, native to central and south eastern Europe and western Asia, has a reputation for being temperamental and a bit tricky to grow. Unlike most asters, it cannot be moved or divided in fall and may sulk for a year until it is re-established. The flowers, which bloom in mid summer, are said to be fragrant. It will get between eighteen inches and two feet (45.7 – 60.9cm) tall and form a nice, bushy clump about eighteen inches (45.7 cm) in diameter. The leaves are rough and the lowest ones can get six inches (15cm) long. It is drought resistant and long-blooming, but may be better for the experienced gardener.

The variety bessarabicus is native to Bessarabia; reaches two feet (45.7cm) tall and has dull purple flowers.

This is a popular species in Europe and a number of cultivars have been named that may be a bit difficult to find in US nurseries.

Aster divaricatus (White Wood Aster)

This rather sprawling, rhizomatous aster has woody, twiggy almost black stems. It’s found in dry woods from Main to Georgia and west to Ohio. Unlike most asters, the leaves are large (the lower ones can be seven inches (17.8 cm) long, and heart-shaped. Although not as showy as some asters, this one is particularly valuable for shady gardens because it will bloom in heavy shade and tolerates dry shade — something we have a lot of if we garden under large trees! A. divaricatus will vary between one foot and two feet (30.5 – 60.9 cm) tall and about eighteen inches in diameter. It’s best to plant them in groups and allow them to flop. They are rated hardy from USDA zones 3 to 9.

Aster dumosus (Bushy Aster)

Native from Massachusetts to Florida and Louisiana, Aster dumosus flowers prolifically in light, well drained soil and a sunny location. It will degenerate rapidly in compacted or poorly drained soil. This is one that needs division almost every year to keep blooming well. It gets about three feet (1 meter) tall and is rated hardy to USDA zones 2 and 3. Numerous cultivars, some dwarf, have been developed, among them:

‘Lady in Blue’
‘Pink Bouquet’
‘Professor Kippenberg’

Wildscaping – Wild Foods — Fruits and Other Treats

There’s a flash of color outside the living room window. It’s the male goldfinch, bright as a buttercup, resplendent in his breeding plumage, breakfasting at the thistle feeder. Politely waiting his turn in our mulberry tree is the male house finch, who seems a bit embarrassed by his more modest outfit of rose and brown. The grackle invasion is over since we started putting out our spring foods and our faithful “yard birds” – finches, jays, sparrows, cardinals, mockingbird, and doves are still with us. Patient Mama Starling hunts bugs in peace now that the bigger and more aggressive birds are gone. We enjoyed the seeing the redwing blackbirds (and Bruce enjoyed the antics of the grackles) – but now that the spring nesting season is here and there’s available food for them, it was time for these messy birds to move on. So we changed our feeding mixes to specialty foods that our favorite birds liked and the bossy black birds found other parts to call home.

Our spring bird food mix is a blend of specialty foods — thistle, peanuts in the shell, a birdseed low in millet, and — apples. The little doves (perhaps too pigeon-brained to care) came out of habit, but the survivalist-oriented grackles and blackbirds were convinced that our bountiful supply of goodies was at an end, went away. Now the fruit and thistle eaters have their chance, and they’re making the most of it. One of the most interesting foods for your yard is fruit – apples, raisins, grapes, oranges, and even grapefruit. Just about any sort of fruit that humans enjoy is something that birds like, too. Various other kinds of wildlife will also come into your yard to nibble on juicy berries. Here in Texas, our guests seem to prefer mulberries and apples, though other wildscapers report that their wild friends like the other fruits on the list. At Arenal Lodge in Costa Rica, the staff set the leftover fruit from breakfast — mangos, plantains, melon rinds, bananas, and apples — on a high platform for their feathered residents to enjoy – one of the strategies that makes Arenal Lodge a renowned birding spot.

There’s a number of creatures around the world that enjoys a good meal of fruit: A partial list includes:

parrots catbirds orioles grosbeaks and other large finches thrushes tanagers mice (prefer nuts and seeds but will eat fruit) squirrels (but they’d rather have nuts and seeds) coatimundis monkeys raccoons bears (though you might not want to wildscape for bears unless you have a LOT of land!)

Working Mothers Hub – A Mother’s Day Wish List

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I would like to share my wish list for working mothers. Although I composed this list based on my personal situation, I’m sure other working mothers can relate to what I’m saying. Here are my hopes and dreams.

My place of employment doesn’t downsize or go out of business. I need my job in order to pay the bills, to feed and clothe my family,

My daycare continues to tolerate my kid’s bad moments and lets him stay.

My car doesn’t break down. I need it to get to and from work. I also need it as my kid’s taxi service.

I don’t get a call from the school telling me my child had a slight difference of opinion with a classmate.

My child doesn’t tell me at bedtime he needs to buy supplies for a project he’s doing at school tomorrow.

I don’t hear the request “can you help me with my homework” just when I have jumped into the tub for a long relaxing bath.

My child finally understands the phrase “you have to wait until my payday.”

My teenager remembers to take his keys with him and doesn’t leave them in the jeans he piled on the floor last night.

My boss realizes parent-teacher interviews are not held in the evening.

My co-workers keep things low-key when I arrive at work after being up half the night with a sick child.

My employer understands I have to leave promptly at 5:00 because my daycare expects me to pick up my child on time.

My children realize supper isn’t ready the minute I walk in the door.

Swimming classes, dance lessons, and organized sports get conducted after supper or on the weekends.

I learn how to be better at juggling a career and a family.

I Find new and effective ways to alleviate stress.

I don’t feel guilty about leaving my children on their own so often.

My children remain safe and healthy.

I fight back the tears when one of my children ask “why do you have to work?”

I remember to thank the mothers who are able to help with school activities.

I win the lottery so I can stay home with my family!

May all your wishes come true.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

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