- New England Spring Flower Show
- Spring Flowers in Boston
- Spring Flower Events in Boston
- Spring Flowers Bloom Calendar for Boston
- Where to See Spring Flowers in Bloom in Boston
- How to Save on Boston Hotels
- Plant Profile
- New England Aster Plant Care: How To Grow New England Aster Plants
- New England Aster Flowers
- How to Grow New England Asters
- New England Aster Care
- Gardening How-to Articles
- Asters: Stars of the Show in Fall
- The Tall and the Small
- Good Company
New England Spring Flower Show
Since 1872, more than 5 1/2 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, competitions, horticultural information and retail booths. Since 1872, more than 5 1/2 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, competitions, horticultural information and retail booths. The Boston Flower & Garden Show is about inspiring, educating and motivating the region’s gardeners. Whether for curb appeal, backyard, kitchen, indoor, rooftop or community gardens, this is where New England’s green lovers go to discover new ideas while having fun with family and friends.
Colorful life-sized gardens and vibrant floral designs incorporate the newest design elements, examples of the popular and healthy food gardening trend ideas for adopting sustainable gardening practices and air-cleansing indoor plants. Included will be small-space gardens, homesteading hobbies, edibles-as-ornamentals and family and pet-friendly spaces for outdoor relaxation and entertaining.
This year’s Show theme is “Garden Party: Celebrating Friends & Family”. There’s nothing more important than time spent connecting with the precious people and places in our lives! At this year’s show, we’ll celebrate outdoor living and interior plantscapes that inspire us to spend time with the ones we love. Explore plant families, including the beauty of “black sheep” and “everyone’s favorites”, as well as ways of connecting with each other through our love of nature and gardening.
Spring Flowers in Boston
Boston’s spring flowers perfume the air as they burst into bloom in April.
The exuberant display of blossoms intensifies during May and June, and continues in more subdued hues until frost.
Look at the following photos to get a preview of what you can see if you visit Boston during spring and early summer.
Then, check out our recommendations for the best Boston locations for self-guided spring flower garden tours, plus everything you need to know about Boston garden shows, garden tours, festivals, and celebrations.
Spring Flower Events in Boston
Tulips and narcissus blooming in early April in Back Bay
Spring flower events grace the Boston Event Calendars for April and May. Several don’t-miss highlights:
Art in Bloom – The Museum of Fine Arts transforms its galleries with exuberant flower arrangements based on the museum’s masterpieces. Free museum admission if you have a Boston discount card.
Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill Tour – For one day only, residents of Beacon Hill invite visitors behind their high brick walls, where unique hidden gardens delight their owners.
Lilac Sunday – What better way to spend Mother’s Day than inhaling the exquisite perfume created by the Arnold Arboretum’s extensive lilac collection, usually at its peak of bloom.
Boston Flower and Garden Show – Filled with magnificent display gardens, the Boston Garden Show held in March reminds us that spring really is right around the corner.
Find more garden tours in Boston and Cambridge
More Tours of Boston in the Spring
Spring Flowers Bloom Calendar for Boston
You’ll see dates for most of the flower photos on this page – but keep in mind that bloom times differ a little each year, and sometimes a lot.
Here is when you can typically expect specific flowers to bloom during spring and early summer in Boston
Late March – Mid-April:
- Crocus and other small bulbs
- Daffodils and early tulips
- Buds and perhaps a few early blossoms on magnolias and other flowering trees
Mid-April – Early May
- Magnolias and cherry trees in full bloom
- Tulips and late daffodils
Early May – Early June
- Roses – the classic sign of summer!
Where to See Spring Flowers in Bloom in Boston
Pink tulips in Boston’s Public Garden in mid-April
Although you can see plenty of blooming flowers throughout Boston during April, May, and early June, several neighborhoods and gardens offer especially gorgeous viewing.
Here are our recommendations for central neighborhoods where you can go for self-guided spring flower tours:
Back Bay Spring Flower Displays
Back Bay tops our list for spectacular displays of spring flowers for one reason: the dazzling magnolia trees, especially along Commonwealth Ave, Marlborough Street, and Beacon Street. You’ll see huge saucer magnolias in hues ranging from pearly pink to fuchsia to deep purple mixed in with ethereal star magnolias, and other types of flowering magnolias as well.
Saucer magnolias along Marlborough Street in mid-May
Buds start opening in early April, and the display is well underway by Boston Marathon weekend. When the weather cooperates (no early searing heat, no thunderstorms with driving hail, no tearing winds), you can still see magnolias in bloom through early May.
The front gardens of many Victorian brownstones in Back Bay feature plenty of daffodils, tulips, other spring-flowering bulbs such as giant alliums, and perennials.
Even more spectacular, though, are the rhododendrons, peonies, and early roses appearing throughout Back Bay in May and into June.
Rhododendrons blooming in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in late May
Flowering cherry trees in April along the Esplanade
Cherry trees planted along Boston’s Esplanade burst into bloom in April, and turn this lovely park next to the Charles River into an enchanted garden.
Sadly, they don’t last long but are worth the effort to see. Every year is different, but mid-to-late April is usually a good bet.
You’ll find the highest concentration of cherry trees in the section of the Esplanade bordering Back Bay, roughly between the Fiedler Footbridge (off Arlington Street) and the Mass Ave access ramp.
Kelleher Rose Garden
Roses in Kelleher Rose Garden in mid-June
Most magnificent in June, with blooms continuing from May through Frost.
More about the Kelleher Rose Garden located near the Victory Gardens in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from Fenway Park.
Boston’s Public Garden
White parrot tulips blooming in late April in the Public Garden
Located next to Back Bay (check the Boston Sightseeing Map to quickly see locations of all these neighborhoods), Boston’s Victorian-era Public Garden features winding paths and lots of small but formal planting areas.
Spring flowers on display vary somewhat each year, but always include tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs and annuals such as pansies during April and May. In keeping with the Victorian character, you’ll usually see lots of unusual sub-tropical types of plants here as well – apparently these were popular during Victorian times.
In addition to flowers, spring foliage in the Public Garden is also spectacular, especially the chartreuse-colored weeping willows surrounding the lagoon. The best way to enjoy close-up views of the willow foliage is by taking a swan boat ride. The swan boats return in mid-April, so the timing is perfect.
The South End
Magnolias in bloom in the South End near the Southwest Corridor
Much of the South End is shady, and gardens tend to be tiny – but that doesn’t stop South Enders from planting spectacular container gardens. Walk down Waltham Street and the side streets intersecting with it, and you’ll see some wonderful examples. Combine this stroll with a visit to SoWa Open Markets, opening in early May, for a perfect Sunday afternoon in this trendy Boston neighborhood.
The Southwest Corridor Park, lined with community gardens, is another South End location where you can count on seeing plenty of brilliant spring flower displays. From Back Bay station, walk down Dartmouth Street going south. Almost immediately, you’ll see the Southwest Corridor to your right.
For the best views of South End gardens, go on the annual South End Garden Tour.
Rose Kennedy Greenway
Spring flowers blooming in May along an edge of the Greenway near Dewey Square
The garden sections of the Rose Kennedy Greenway overflow with lovely spring flowers.
Across from the North End, you’ll find a broad stretch of daffodils blooming from about mid-April until early May, when daylilies take over. That’s where the gorgeous yellow magnolia trees shown in the photo gallery are located.
As you walk south, you’ll pass other areas with tulips and more daffodils. Most spectacular, though, are the Chinese Gardens near South Station and Chinatown. Starting in about mid-May, peonies and rhododendrons fill this area with color and fragrance, and contrast wonderfully with the new pale-green bamboo shoots
If you’re visiting in late May or early June, the best place to begin your Greenway tour is not on the Greenway itself, but a few steps away at the Rose Kennedy Memorial Garden, located near the southwestern edge of Christopher Columbus Park just north of the Boston Marriott Long Wharf Hotel. Roses in this lovely oasis bloom from late May through frost, with especially spectacular flowers during June.
The North End
Magnolias blooming in late April in the “Peace Garden” courtyard in front of Saint Leonard’s Church in Boston’s North End
In April, look for spectacular cherry trees in full bloom tucked in pockets between the North End’s densely spaced buildings.
The courtyard in front of Saint Leonard’s Church on Hanover Street is especially beautiful when the trees are in full bloom.
How to Save on Boston Hotels
Check out all our tips on how to find discounts, deals, and promo codes for Boston hotels. Whether you’re looking for bargain accommodations or want to pay less for luxury, we’ll show you How to Save on Hotels in Boston.
More about how to save on Boston hotels
The numerous small flowers with their colorful, radically arranged petals are responsible for the fact that the white wood aster belongs to the most attractive late blooms in Central Europe. In late summer and autumn many flowers cover the lush green shrub. Choosing the right location and taking care of it according to the following instructions will ensure that you can enjoy the flowers for several months.
- family: asters (Asteraceae)
- species: asters (asters)
- origin: Europe, Asia, Africa
- perennial, mostly bushy shrub
- growth height: depending on variety 20 to 150 cm
- restant, perennial plant
- flowering period: August to October, rarely until November
- flower color: white, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue
Only when most of the ornamental plants have already faded, the colorful white wood asters have their great appearance. On the small shrubs, numerous colorful and densely growing flowers open up between August and October, which make the plant with a sea of blossoms a real sight. Asters have a very good effect both in the plot, as well as in the stone garden or in buckets. They are also popular as cut flowers in autumn bouquets. So that you have a long time to enjoy the colorful perennial, you should follow the instructions carefully.
In addition to the viewer, insects are also happy about the blossoming splendor: the late-flowering asters serve as a food source for bees and butterflies in the autumn.
White wood asters are comparatively robust, but somewhat more demanding than China asters. With a few measures and a regular care, diseases and pests can be avoided, so that the garden plant thrives and intensively blossoms for many years.
A sunny location is best suited for white wood asters. In the morning and afternoon sun they grow optimally and form a lot of flowers. If possible, however, the shrub plants should not stand in the hot midday sun, as the flowers are not so tolerant and therefore the flowering time can shorten. A few varieties can also be planted in a semi-shady location.
The white wood aster grows optimally in a loose, nutrient-rich, humusible and permeable substrate. Normal garden earth is usually sufficient. If the soil is too sandy, however, it should be mixed with compost. Under too tight ground you can mix sand and / or compost to loosen it and improve its permeability.
In spring or autumn, asters are placed in the ground. A minimum distance of 30 cm should be maintained between the individual perennials. This allows the air to circulate well, resulting in a reduced risk of disease and pest infestation. Young plants, which are still growing strongly, should be put somewhat further. A distance of 50 cm to 80 cm is recommended.
The Aster does not tolerate permanent drought. The soil should always be kept fresh to damp, but without the formation of frost. If it rains too little, the plant must therefore be regularly watered in the summer. Pour the shrub from below and close to the ground so that the leaves do not become moist. White wood asters are prone to mildew, which particularly likes moist leaves.
In order to stimulate the growth and favor a lush bloom, the aster should be fertilized once in the spring. For this purpose, for example, compost can be raked into the ground. Alternatively complete fertilizer is suitable.
Withered flower heads can be carefully removed. This favors the growth of new flowers. If the plant is completely faded, it can be cut back in the upper third. Subsequently, the complete retreat takes place either in late autumn or early spring. All branches and twigs are cut back so that only the base remains.
The white wood aster can be breeded in different ways.
Asters are most easily breeded by division. Every two to four years, a plant should be divided into two or more new plants that you plant separately from each other at a new location. This leads to a rejuvenation, which preserves the flowering ability and strengthens the plant. The division should be carried out after flowering in the late autumn or alternatively at the beginning of the spring. For this, the aster is divided with a sharp and clean knife at the root.
To breed white wood asters over cuttings, first cut a shoot from the mother plant. This should be about ten centimeters long. Remove the foliage in the lower third and insert the shoot into a pot with a potting compost or a mixture of garden soil and sand. As a high humidity favors the growth, you should put a bag or something similar as a hood over the pot.
White wood asters are sown outside in spring. The seeds germinate at temperatures between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius within two to three weeks. If you want to sow asters in summer, autumn or winter, you should do this in a bucket in the house or in the greenhouse. Again, a temperature between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius should be considered. The pre-grown plants can then later be placed outside.
White wood asters are perennial and can overwinter in the bed. In order to protect the roots from frost, the soil can be covered with an additional compost layer around the plant for safety.
The most common disease affecting the perennials is the aster-withering. The following symptoms indicate an attack.
- the leaves suddenly hang limply, dry up and finally die – no matter how much the aster is watered
- the stalks turn brown
- a reddish mucus occurs
The disease is caused by fungus Verticillium, which blocks the plant and prevents it from passing on water. Infested shrubs are no longer to be saved and have to be dug generously as quickly as possible and disposed of in the organic waste collection bin. As the perennial fungals are embedded in the soil, the diseased plant must not be composted. After the aster has been removed, the earth should be mixed with calcium nitrogen. At least eight years later, white wood asters can be planted again at the affected site. Since the fungi only attack asters, other plants can be used here.
In addition, you can use these measures to prevent the aster-withering:
- use stained see
- plant the asters in sterile soil
- change the location of the plants every few years
- divide each aster every three to four years
- use resistant varieties. They can be recognized by the indication “wilted-free”
Care failures often lead to an infestation with powdery mildew. The main threatened are asters, which are constantly moist. The disease manifests itself through various symptoms.
- on the top of the leaf are small white or gray spots
- from the spots develops a mealy covering, which covers leaves, shoots, flowers and buds
- the affected plant parts become brown and fall off
- the plant is more and more stunted
The aster can be saved if the infestation is detected in time. All affected plant parts must be cut off and disposed of in organic waste bin. Subsequently, the plant should be sprayed thoroughly with a fungicide, which acts against mildew.
Preventive measures reduce the risk of infestation:
- the plants should be poured close to the ground and not from above, so that the leaves do not get wet
- those who planted several white wood asters should not put them too close together, as a result, the individual plants are better ventilated and rain, dew and water from other sources dries better
- Asters must not be fertilized too much
Asters are mainly affected by diseases, less by pests. If a pest spreads on the plant, it is usually the aphid like on many other plants. Rinse the small insects with a stinging nettle or soapy solution. The affected plant should be sprayed several times at intervals of two to three days from all sides. Once no aphids are visible, you can complete the treatment.
The white wood aster is a speciose plant, which differs mainly by size, color of the petals and sensitivity. The many varieties can be classified in three different ways.
Bushy aster (Aster dumosus)
The aster dumosus is the lowest type and spreads out strongly to the side. A shrub is between 20 cm and 50 cm high, which is why it is especially suitable for hardwood or as a bedding. It is also a popular cemetery plant. The Aster dumosus produces a particularly large quantity of small flowers.
Among the best known varieties of aster dumosus are:
- the variety bobby-dazzler blooms in the intense Violett and becomes up to 25 cm high
- the aster dumosus rosedwarf develops pink flowers and also reaches a maximum height of 25 cm
- pink to lilac flowers grow on the variety autumn greetings from the Bresserhof, which grows up to 40 cm
- the small white flower of the sort snowpillow reminds of camomile flowers, this aster dumosus reaches a height of maximum 20 cm
New York aster (Aster novi-belgii)
The New York aster differs mainly in its size from the aster dumosus: it achieves a growth height of 50 cm to 150 cm. Larger plants should be supported so that they do not bend. As the name suggests, this aster has smooth leaves. The Aster novi-belgii is more sensitive to diseases than their relatives.
The most popular varieties of this type are:
- the sort beacon is lit in bright pink. It is up to 80 cm tall
- the New York aster Royal Ruby has a full, purple-colored flower and grows up to 60 cm high
- the sort rose quartz has unusually narrow petals in tender pink and is up to 110 cm high
- the blue-violett-blossoming sort beauty of Dietlikon reaches a size of up to 150 cm
New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Also up to 150 cm can be the different varieties of the New England aster. This species is distinguished by its hairy leaves. In addition, their flowers close at night and in bad weather. New England asters are more resistant to mildew than other species. However, they tend to discard their leaves in the lower part during flowering. Therefore, the aster novae-angliae often looks bare. However, those who planted lower plants around this species can conceal this easily.
Among the important varieties of New England are:
- the sort Purple Dome has purple flowers and reaches a height of 70 cm
- the Aster novae-angliae Alma Pötschke blooms pink and is up to a meter high
- the only white flowering New England aster is the sort autumn-snow, which grows up to 140 cm
- Ruby treasure is the strong ruby red flowering variety, which is up to 150 cm high
New England Aster Plant Care: How To Grow New England Aster Plants
Looking for a burst of color for your fall garden? The New England aster plant (Aster novi-angliae) is an easy to care for perennial, blooming from August through October. Most North American gardeners can learn how to grow New England aster. Once established in the garden, New England aster care is extremely easy. Keep reading for more information on growing New England asters.
New England Aster Flowers
A wildflower member of the Asteraceae family and native to the eastern and central United States, New England aster flowers are generally found in meadows and other moist, well draining soils. The New England aster plant has medium green to gray-green foliage with an odor somewhat reminiscent of turpentine, when crushed.
Don’t let the unpleasant aroma put you off, however. This plant provides stunning rose to lilac or deep purple blooms in mass plantings within native species gardens, low-lying areas, along roadsides and around tree lines. The brilliant blooms make great cut flowers, and are longer lasting in water than its cousin the New York aster (A. novi belgi). The floral display provides color long into the waning days of summer.
Other varieties of New England aster flowers are available for the home garden as well and
will provide additional color. These include:
- ‘Alma Potschke’ produces 3 ½ foot tall plants with vibrant pink blooms.
- ‘Barr’s Pink’ blooms are rose-colored, semi-double flowers on a 3 ½ foot tall plant.
- ‘Harrington’s Pink’ lights the garden with 4 foot tall pink blossoms.
- ‘Hella Lacy’ is a 3 to 4 foot tall plant with dark purple blooms.
- ‘Honeysong Pink’ has yellow centered pink flowers on 3 ½ foot tall plants.
- ‘September Beauty’ blooms a deep red on 3 ½ foot tall plants.
- ‘September Ruby’ flowers are rosy-red atop 3 to 4 foot tall plants.
How to Grow New England Asters
Growing New England asters, as with other aster plants, is easy. This particular aster variety prefers full to partial sun in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-8.
Propagate by seed or division when growing New England asters. Although a bit more difficult to grow from seed, it is well worth the effort. Surface sow in the spring in an area of rich, moist soil as these plants tend to wilt in poorly drained clay. The New England aster will germinate in 21 to 45 days at a soil temperature of 65-75 F. (8-24 C.).
These late summer through early fall bloomers spread 2 to 4 feet with a height of 1 to 6 feet. When planting make sure to provide good air circulation, keeping in mind the large spreading area.
New England Aster Care
New England aster care is moderate. Just divide in fall and fertilize and cut back in spring. These daisy-like flowering plants should be divided every two to three years in late fall to promote vigorous specimens.
The taller varieties, such as the 4-foot tall bluish-purple ‘Treasurer’ or the nearly 5-foot tall purple-red ‘Lyle End Beauty,’ usually require staking. Pinch plants early in the season to get a lower growing and bushier plant or choose a dwarf variety like ‘Red Star’ (1 to 1 ½ feet with deep rosy flowers) or the aptly named ‘Purple Dome.’
New England aster flowers may also self seed in optimal conditions. Be aware of this self-sowing when growing New England asters. To avoid self-seeding in the garden, cut back after blooming.
This non-invasive beauty is fairly disease and insect resistant; however, it may be prone to powdery mildew.
Keep soil moist as mentioned above and prepare to enjoy this hardy and bountiful perennial for years to come.
By Jonathan Chesler
Assistant to the Head Gardener
As summer hits its high arc and the days grow technically but as yet imperceptibly shorter, Northeastern gardens are in full flush and bloom. Pick-your-own produce places pop up and roadside farm stands fill out with signs for ‘Native Corn’ and ‘Native Tomatoes.’ Despite the horticultural inaccuracy found on those placards and in other cases, it’s noteworthy that a plant’s native status is emphasized as an important selling point. True, while everything is native to somewhere, for our purposes, native plants are those that have been found in the Northeast (New England) from pre-Colombian times.
The white-flowering Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan,’ and Rudbeckia fulgida sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ are both improved natives, and they’re both popular with pollinators.
So why the interest and excitement over natives? Firstly, native plants ask for few resources upon seeding or planting them, and they also give back in abundance. As these plants have co-evolved with native butterflies, moths, birds and the like, they are recognized as sources of food, and good food at that. It’s not by coincidence that White Flower Farm’s Butterfly Magnet Collection, Monarch Butterfly Collection, and Pollinator Garden for Sun heavily favor native cultivars; e.g. Liatris, Phlox, Echinacea, Milkweed, Agastache, and Coreopsis (in no particular order).
When properly placed and established, native plants are vigorous players that usually outperform newcomers when the vagaries of nature throw drought, inundation, disease, and predatory herbivores their way. Not to say that they cannot be affected and even succumb to the aforementioned, but they often can overcome such problems with minimal care. This leads us to the next point: native plants generally don’t need as much water, fertilization and disease control as non-natives. This leaves you more time to fuss over other areas of the garden, or perhaps a chance to sit back and enjoy!
Finally, despite increasing popularity, natives and native cultivars are uncommon enough to elicit surprise, yet they’re entirely familiar and fitting in our gardens. No matter what kind of environmental conditions you have in your garden, or what kind of color or effect you’re looking for, you’re sure to find a native that excels in one or more areas. Dry or wet, shady or sunny, small or expansive — there are plenty of choices that are horticulturally interesting in leaf, form or flower. What follows here are some native highlights best seen in fall, before New England’s lakes and ponds release their stored summer heat and before morning mist and leaf peepers displace the snowbirds heading south.
Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’ is an improved variety of the straight Honeysuckle species, our native Lonicera sempervirens. Hummingbirds love the tubular flowers on this vine. You’ll love the color that persists from summer into fall.
While correlation does not imply causation, native fall flowers seem to hit their stride just as ‘Back to Skool’ advertisements begin to appear. Liatris, Coreopsis, and Monarda (Bee Balm) recede as Trumpet Honeysuckle, Autumn Phlox and Ox-eye Daisies continue their earlier summer shows into early autumn’s prime-time. Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Asters are in full effect. As vacations end and grumbling begins, optimistically bright Black-eyed Susans are true pick-me-ups and are as quintessentially New England as clam chowdah and apple pie.
New York Ironweed in flower at the site of the former Project Native. The tag on the butterfly is part of a study monitoring their progress in the wild. / Photo by Jonathan Chesler
The Goldenrods flower, as does Vernonia novaboracensis, New York Ironweed. White Flower Farm offers the Ironweed cultivar ‘Iron Butterfly,’ which tops out at about 3’, far below the impressive 6-8’ potential of the straight species, making it far more practical scale-wise for most gardens. It’s a strong favorite of Monarch butterflies, and the persistent seed heads fade to a rust color in the fall, giving it the common name. The seed heads are treasured by birds in the winter.
Another spectacular fall flower is Helenium autumnale, which is also called Dog-tooth Daisy or Sneezeweed. Beyond the straight species’ pure orange-yellow are brighter yellows and reds and oranges best found in the Mariachi™ series, which is also offered and grown here at White Flower Farm. Chelone glabra, Turtlehead, can be a late-to-the-party, white- or pink-flowered, deep green-leafed shade-tolerant plant, which, contrary to much of what’s written, can handle sun, if provided with enough water.
Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love Grass, appears at this time as well, along roadsides and in our new Native Garden designed by Head Gardener Cheryl Whalen. The light and feathery, relatively low seed heads are more of a 1980’s neon pink than purple, but semantics notwithstanding, and as the Latin implies, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.
Our native Viburnum acerifolium, or Maple-leaved Viburnum, produces lacy white blossoms in summer followed by richly colored foliage in the fall. / Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical GardensMaple-leaf Viburnum puts on its autumn show. The berries are inedible to humans but they’re favored by birds. / Photo by Jonathan Chesler
In addition to flowers, shrubs small and large come into their own just as signs for New England’s Fall Fairs start appearing by roadsides, framed by the aforementioned Eragrostis. Red or black, you win either way with Chokecherry roulette. The fiery red foliage is a feast for the human eye, and for many a hungry bird to boot. And while most people fend off angry birds to protect their blueberry crop, Blueberry bushes both high and low are surprisingly undervalued for their foliage, which I find even more attractive than the Chokecherries, and far superior to the invasive, thornily ornery Berberis thunbergii, more commonly known as Japanese Barberry. If you prefer the hot pink fall foliage of Barberry to the redder Blueberry, there is still a native answer – Viburnum acerifolium, Maple-leaved Viburnum. This understory shrub is eye-catching and, like the Chokecherries, its berries are inedible for humans but delicious to our avian companions.
In addition to brilliant colors, there is a wide variety of natives that offers interesting foliage textures to Northeast gardeners. While many of the above have small leaves and the Amsonias in particular take fine texture quite seriously, Hydrangea quercifolia, the Oak-leaf Hydrangea, and Rubus odoratus, or Flowering Raspberry, have broad leaves and coarse texture. Both need a fair amount of room, and they tolerate or prefer light to part shade. Shade will reduce bloom size and number, but if that’s not the goal, they can fill in space very nicely. I have an Oak-leaf Hydrangea that was slammed into a lightly shaded corner quickly before the frost two years ago, but it has responded so well in form and flower that the most temporary solution became the most permanent.
Pretty Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ adds beauty and fragrance to summer gardens. The dark green foliage turns yellow in autumn. It’s an improved form of the native Clethra alnifolia.
The Oak-leaf Hydrangea’s spectacular orange, scarlet and purple extends its seasonal interest and contrasts the lemon yellow of the Flowering Raspberry. In addition to the red and pink fall foliage described above, Lindera benzoin or Spicebush, Clethra alnifolia or Sweet Pepperbush, and Amsonia tabernaemontana or Bluestar, provide attractive yellows to brighten the fall color palette.
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is a standout in the late summer border amid violet pink Phlox, paler pink Agastache (foreground right), the dried flower heads of Drumstick Allium (left), and globe-shaped Allium (foreground right), and Ornamental Grass.
In this New-York-minute scramble through the ancient Adirondacks, past Congregationalist churches, “Native Corn” farm stands and “Pick Your Own” pastures, I hope you’ve sensed the wide variety of available native plant material, whether you aim for sun or shade, big or small, flower, leaf color or shape, or edibility for yourselves or for friendly fauna. So explore, and indeed, pick your own!
Gardening How-to Articles
Asters: Stars of the Show in Fall
By Stephanie Cohen | September 1, 2001
The onset of fall can be a time of mixed emotions for many of us gardeners. As trees and shrubs begin to clothe themselves in showy autumnal colors—burnished oranges, glowing reds, buttery yellows, overtones of bronze—our perennial borders take on a somewhat sad, lackluster appearance.
Indeed, it’s often the case that when the dog days of July arrive, a mild horticultural despair sets in and dissuades us from making any further trips to the nursery. If we do decide to go, it’s usually to shop for the easy quick fix: mums! Typically, we’ll buy legions of brightly colored chrysanthemums to camouflage the spots where faint-hearted perennials have keeled over or where annuals are just about spent.
But there’s an alternative to the chrysanthemum solution that provides, in my opinion, a happier denouement to our usual tales of gardening woe. Asters! Our hardy, sun-loving native asters cruise through the summer swelter and build to a crescendo of late-season blooms. What’s more, their primarily blue-violet flower tones work in cool, subtle contrast to the fiery fall landscape at large.
There are hundreds of species with the common name of aster. They were once considered part of the huge Aster genus, but North American species were reclassified into several other genera in the 1990’s after research showed that they were not closely related to Eurasian species. All aster species belong, along with zinnias, dahlias, mums, and other daisy-faced beauties, to the Asteraceae, the largest of the flowering-plant families. Since wild asters generally grow to about 5 or 6 feet tall and have “weedy-looking” foliage, gardeners in the United States have been slow to embrace them. This is not the case in England and Germany, where breeders have been creating more compact and garden-friendly varieties since the 1890s.
Cultivated asters are now available in a myriad of different shades: from the typical blues, pinks, and purples to whites and reds. Most species bloom in the fall. Pinch them back around mid-July and they’ll produce a profusion of 1- to 2-inch-wide, star-shaped flowers. (Those of you who are intimate with night skies and heavenly bodies will know that aster is the Greek word for “star.”)
The Tall and the Small
Let’s begin with Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (zones 4 to 8), the wonderful New England aster. This classic wildflower of our open sunny spaces grows to five feet in height and bears violet-purple flowers with yellow centers from late summer to mid-autumn. Its strong stem makes it perfect for flower arrangements.
The New England aster has furnished us with a wide variety of cultivars. Like the species plant, they all flourish in full sun and good garden loam. The taller selections, if you forget to pinch them, may need staking. ‘Alma Potschke’ grows between 3 and 4 feet tall, with bright rosy red flowers. If you’re a timid soul, you might need sunglasses when you gaze at this hot aster.
I have an affinity for short plants, so my favorite is ‘Purple Dome’. It grows to between 18 and 24 inches tall and, come early fall, is absolutely drenched in vivid purple flowers. Many asters are prone to mildew and leaf diseases and can wind up, excuse the expression, “with bare bottoms.” But ‘Purple Dome’ is so close to the ground that any damage it might sustain is unnoticeable.
More: Beautiful native aster species growing at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, the New York aster (zones 4 to 8), grows to four feet. Its stems are more slender than those of the New England aster, but it has similar flower color and cultivation needs. English gardeners refer to it as the Michaelmas daisy since it’s always in bloom during the feast of Saint Michael (September 29th). Getrude Jekyll, the doyenne of perennial garden design, loved these flowers so much that she used them to compose an entire border.
The New York aster’s long list of cultivars includes ‘Mount Everest’, which grows to 3 feet and is covered in lovely white flowers for a few weeks. ‘Lady-in-Blue’ is a recent introduction, just 12 inches tall, with lovely medium-blue flowers. ‘Nesthäkchen’ is 18 inches tall and compact, with really striking pinkish red flowers—I’m fond of this one not only for its color but also its resistance to mildew. ‘Professor Kippenberg’ is an old-fashioned cultivar; at 12 inches, with attractive lavender semi-double flowers, it makes a definite statement for a short plant.
The new Woods series offers 8-inch dwarf asters in pink, purple, and blue that are excellent for the front of the fall border. ‘Royal Ruby’ and ‘Royal Velvet’ are taller cultivars, growing to between 24 and 30 inches. They offer, respectively, a semi-double ruby color and a baronial violet-purple. Finally, another British-sounding cultivar is ‘Winston Churchill’. It is only 2 to 3 inches tall with very deep red flowers.
‘Bluebird’, a cultivar of Symphyotrichum laeve, the smooth aster (zones 4 to 8), is a personal favorite of mine in the category of tall asters. Violet-blue yellow-centered flowers and attractive blue-green foliage make this 3-foot aster one of the highlights of my fall border. I like to combine ‘Bluebird’ with Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, a lovely 3-foot compact goldenrod with great, arching sprays of golden flowers.
A little-known aster is Symphyotrichum oblongifolius, which can tolerate a fairly dry environment. The 2-foot-tall cultivar ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ flourishes in full sun and well-drained soil. Its blue-purple daisy flowers explode in early fall above fragrant foliage.
‘Prince’, a cultivar of Symphyotrichum lateriflorus or calico aster, like the pop star of the same name, dares to be different. At 3 feet tall, it has white daisy flowers with contrasting dark purple foliage. This foliage may turn green in very hot weather, but if given light shade in the afternoon can keep its unusual color. ‘Prince’ likes a moist, moderately fertile soil (zones 4 to 8).
Ampelaster carolinianus), the climbing aster, flourishes from zones 6 to 9. Come springtime, it already looks rather tall and spindly. As the seasons progress, it can reach a height of up to 12 feet. Ampeleaster carolinianus prefers full sun and fertile soil, and produces arching stems with pink to purple flowers in October. It looks marvelous sprawling along a fence or trellis.
Eurybia divaricata, the white wood aster (zones 4 to 8), is perfect for the shade garden. It grows from 12 to 18 inches and, in August, produces tiny white daisies with yellow centers atop heart-shaped leaves. It works great in light shade with good air circulation, but prefers morning sun. The caveat is that, if it likes your garden, it will spread rapidly. So thin it out in spring if you’d like other things to grow as well.
To take full advantage of the diversity of asters—short, medium, tall, and climbing—choose a worthwhile companion plant. I’ve already mentioned goldenrod. Try, too, one of the wonderful fall-blooming alliums, such as Allium virgunculae, whose pink star-shaped flower clusters appear in October.
Another interesting combination plant is Amsonia hubrichtii (Arkansas amsonia), whose feathery green foliage turns a handsome buttery yellow come autumn.
Some of the best partners for fall are the late great grasses like the Panicum species (switch grasses), whose autumnal colors echo those of the surrounding trees and shrubs. ‘Heavy Metal’ has metallic blue leaves that turn yellow to buff. Its airy plumes are off-white. The foliage of ‘Haense Herms’ turns scarlet in fall. ‘Dallas Blue’ also gets great fall color.
Asters even make great companions for your chrysanthemums, if you find it too hard to let them go.
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Stephanie Cohen teaches at Temple University, Ambler and is founding director of the arboretum there. She is that author of The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer.