Nine of us met at Picton Gardens in Colwell, near Malvern on National Michaelmas Daisy Day, 29th September 2016. Old Court Orchard Nurseries were established by Ernest Ballard in 1906, one of the first growers to specialise in breeding asters. After his death, Percy Picton bought the business and Paul, his son, later joined him. Now a third generation of the Picton family has joined the business and there are now more than 410 varieties held in this Plant Heritage National Collection. Picton garden was named after Percy Picton in 1985 to mark the formation of the Percy Picton Memorial Fund. The charity provides grants to students of horticulture at Pershore College.
Helen Picton invited us into the large potting shed laid out with specimens – aster means “star like”. The Aster family includes dahlias, coreopsis, echinacea and rudbeckia amongst others. The genus, Aster, is now taken to be Old world species with Aster amellus being the type species. New world species have been moved into other genus such as Symphyotrichum.
Aster novae-angliae (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are commonly called New York Aster or Michaelmas Daisy. They are autumn flowering, producing tough woody clumps which deter mildew spores. They are relatively drought tolerant.
Helen pulled apart one “flower” – botanically an influorescence of lots of sessile flowers called florets on a receptacle. The eye of the daisy is made up of disc florets with five very short petals around the edge. There are fertile and bisexual. The outer ray florets have three of the five petals fused to form a ligule, the other two remaining small and inconspicuous.
These florets are sterile or just female. If there are four or more rows of ray florets, the “flower” is considered a “double flower”. Identifying features of each genus includes the size of the bracts.
Helen continued with tips for growing and propagation of asters and agreed with the suggestion that garlic spray could prevent mildew if the entire surface of the foliage is coated. We thanked her for such a knowledgeable account of the botany and horticultural aspects of asters and went out round the gardens.
Picton Garden includes a lot of unusual or rare plants so we spent some time scouting around looking for labels to identify specimens! Asters were amassed in glorious colourful clumps all around, at the peak of their flowering. I loved the Euonymus seedheads and thought the multi-pot arrangement for succulents very clever. We were impressed by the colour possible in the garden at the end of September and many of us proceeded to buy a few to brighten our gardens. They may be very difficult to portray with botanical accuracy.
But I would love to paint the Euonymus.