Saturday, 1 October 2011

Michaelmas daisies at Old Court Nurseries

Symphyotrichum novi-belgii in the Picton Garden - a reminder of the wonderful diversity of Michaelmas daisies.

This afternoon, in glorious weather (the hottest October day recorded in England), we visited Old Court Nurseries in Colwall, near Malvern, which has been associated with the selection and promotion of Michaelmas daisies for over a century. Started by Ernest Ballard in 1906 it has been run since the 1950s by the Picton family, now on their third generation. The history of the nursery, and full online catalogue is available from their website.

Although one visits the nursery, it's really the adjacent Picton garden one goes to see - a small entry fee is payable - where there is a magnificent display of daisies, arranged largely by type, but there's also an interesting assortment of woody plants and shade-tolerant species including some good ferns. The nursery majors on Michaelmas daisies, but has a few 'supporting cast' in the form of Aconitum, Rudbeckia etc.

The Picton Garden is adjacent to the nursery - a view over the S. novi-belgii display, just at its peak.
The issue of what to call these plants arises, however. Traditionally all Michaelmas daisies - itself a broad term - have been called Aster, but in recent years genetic analysis has shown the group to form two very distinct lineages, one from Eurasia and Africa, and the other American in origin. In consequence the huge genus Aster has been subdivided into numerous small genera, each with distinct ancestry. In this scheme the genus Aster is European or Eurasian, with A. amellus being the type species, while the familiar American Michaelmas daisies are placed into Symphyotrichum. British gardeners, and indeed botanists, have been very reluctant to accept these clearly demonstrated genetic differences, with the result that Aster is still in use for the whole lot, but in the American gardens I've visited in the past few weeks the change has been made and the plants are labelled Symphyotrichum. My preference is always to recognise a classification based upon repeatable, scientific methods, in which shared single ancestry is demonstrated, so although it's quite difficult to make the change mentally, I'm adopting Symphyotrichum and the other genera into which the old broad Aster was split.

Aster amellus 'GrĂ¼nder'; this European species remains in Aster.
I had not seen this cultivar before - it's superb, with strong stiff stems. Unfortunately the stock was all sold out.
Another true Aster: A. trinervius var. ageratoides 'Starshine' - a good, short plant.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii 'Melbourne Magnet'.
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Colwall Galaxy'  - a fine selection from Old Court Nurseries.
S. novi-belgii (or is it a hybrid) 'Beechwood Charm', with small, single, intensely pink flowers: a pot of this accompanied us home. It will be planted next to Aconitum 'Royal Flush' next year.


  1. Gorgeous flowers! The variety of colour in the first photo just so beautiful! Thank you for your information about the split of the Aster genus. It is difficult to take up new names, but in the end we will profit from a more distinct classification of course. Symphyotrichum, I will try to get used to it!

  2. I wish it were a simple name change. That's so much easier to adapt to. But having to split Aster into two different categories makes it confusing and, at times, frustrating. Call me lazy.

  3. I understand the logic and necessity behind splitting up genus and renaming them but it does tend to get awfully confusing, especially when those names are multisyllabic and unpronounceable.

    Now let’s talk about your photography which is stunning. They are all amazing but the top most photo with its multicolored blooms is my very favorite.

  4. Pictons is 10 mins from me. Thanks for explaining the name change, I had noticed tht a lot of the American blogs that I read were reluctantly making a change and I couldnt understand why I hadn't heard of it here. I should have realised we were being difficult!

  5. Thanks John in advising all your wonderful readers the new name for american asters.

  6. My maternal grandmothers' maiden name was Picton.She was a first cousin to Percy Picton.I met him when he was well into his nineties ,all the family lived to a great age!,and he proudly showed me his rare snowdrops and a minute plant growing parasitically on a small juniper in a pot.I went there with Phillip Ballard all so long ago!But I never was there fo the Asters.Something I definately have to do!
    Mark in Sainte Marguerite-sur-mer.


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