There are some flowers I love because they are show-stoppers, others because of their evocative scent, and some because they are unusual. Michaelmas daisies don’t tick any of those boxes, but I love them anyway. They are bright, cheerful, and completely undemanding – at home in the poorest, driest soils, and bees and butterflies love them!
They get their common name from their flowering period, which peaks at Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael on September 5th, though they will carry on flowering well into late autumn. This means they are great for injecting colour into borders which can start to look a little washed-out and dreary in late summer. Until the mid-nineties, Michaelmas daisies were all known scientifically as asters, but then some were reclassified. Look out for the name Symphyotrichum, as many popular varieties now carry that name instead.
The gardener credited with popularising the Michaelmas daisy was Ernest Ballard. Many of the varieties he cultivated are still available and bear the names of his family members. “Ada Ballard” is named for his sister and is lavender blue, “Marie Ballard” is a pretty pale blue double bloom named for his wife. He is also responsible for “Prosperity” and “Peace”, rose-pink and deep mauve respectively, which he named straight after the First World War.
If you want a tallish variety suitable for the middle of the border, try “Little Carlow” which grows to about 90cm and produces masses of violet-blue blooms. One of my favourites for the back of the border is “Calliope” which has striking black elegant stems that reach heights of 2m, smothered in delicate lilac flowers. A good small variety is “Beggarten” which is pale blue, compact and clump-forming. “Tonga” is also smaller and is a lovely deep purple which looks great in a container.
Although they are not high-maintenance plants, Michaelmas daisies benefit from being cut down to ground level in late autumn and covered in a good mulch of well-rotted organic matter.
And that’s all there is to it!