Asters and autumn in Upton's garden

Close up of an Aster flower

We grow and looked after a National Collection of Asters and recently named Symphytrichum species since 1985. We grow three particularly important species A. amellus, S. cordiofolius and S. ericoides, and many cultivars.

A flourishing collection

The first established Aster collection was started by Miss Elizabeth Allen in the 1940s. Over the next 50 years she established the largest collection of Asters in Britain and it was one of the first to be recognised by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.

To ensure the future of Miss Allen’s collection a new home was sought, where enough space and time could be dedicated to look after them. Upton House and Gardens was one such place, with other species going to Paul Picton’s garden at Malvern and some to a private garden near Leeds.

Asters at Upton

The collection is planted on the West side of the Kitchen garden in three rows so that the plants can be viewed whilst they are in flower. We also have the best cultivars planted in a traditional mixed border together with other late flowering plants to give autumn colour and structure. Asters and Symphytrichum bring the season of perennials to a climatic end, visited with a late flourish of hover flies, pollen seeking bees and drifts of passing butterflies.

The collection consists of three species of Aster amellus, S. cordifolius, and S. ericoides with nearly 100 different cultivars between them.

Aster amellus

Bred in the early 20th century with the introduction of King George in 1914, this has been one of the most popular cultivars ever since.

Its rich, purple-blue flowers are produced relatively early in September. Although purple-blue tones predominate, there are also pink-toned cultivars, such as A. ‘Jacqueline Genebrier’.

Like the true Michaelmas daisies A. amellus cultivars need frequent regeneration by lifting and dividing the clumps every few years.

Symphytrichum cordifolius

The leaves are thin, dull green, slightly hairy and heart shaped. The flowers vary from pale violet-blue, to lavender and almost white, on thin, wiry stems and short branches forming graceful spires.

The best time to divide the plants is when the new shoots start to show above the ground. They will tolerate light shade and are resistant to mildew.

Symphytrichum ericoides

This species will tolerate a wide range of soils and summer droughts. They begin to flower in mid-autumn with many cultivars still looking good almost into winter, with softly coloured flowers on branching stems that arch up from healthy-looking mounds of foliage.

Esther is one of the most spectacular cultivars, with pale pink-toned-purple flowers, sometimes so freely borne that the plants need support. Other good cultivars are Pink Cloud, Blue Star and Golden Spray.

Come along to see the collection for yourself, it is a sight not to be missed in late September.

Autumn glory round the garden

As you stroll around the garden you will see the many other plants which will be turning into their autumn glory.

As well as the autumn herbaceous border, the Berberis bank will be full of jewelled berries hanging like grapes in the afternoon sunshine. You can't miss the Acer palmatum turning from bronze into its autumn oranges and yellows as it starts to shut down for the winter. 

Looking down into the Bog garden from the terrace, use your nose as well as your eyes as it embraces the new season. Those with a good nose will pick up the smell burnt toffee from the Cercidiphyllum japonicum. As the cold mornings progress you will see the first leaves turning from lush green into their fiery autumn glow.