Plant of The Month – Aster frikartii monch

Asters are a familiar sight in late summer and autumn, they provide much needed colour to the border when other perennials are fading. They are invaluable to help lengthen the life of any border. Asters are herbaceous perennials and are better known in the UK as Michaelmas Daisies. Hundreds of species and cultivated varieties are grown in gardens throughout the temperate regions of the world, with many more being cultivated worldwide for the cut flower industry. All are members of the Asteraceae family and we owe the existence of nearly all our popular Michaelmas Daisy cultivars to species native to Northern America. A much lesser number are derived from species of European and Asiatic origins.
In 1918 the Swiss nurseryman, Frikart, produced the first commercial Aster amellus x Aster thomsonii hybrids. Those and the few subsequent hybrids are known as Aster x frikartii and include the ever popular ‘Monch’. All of the named cultivars make very good garden plants exhibiting the hybrid vigour which makes them much stronger and longer lived than either parent. The large starry flowers cover the plants from midsummer well into mid-autumn. Staking is not necessary and they are completely resistant to mildew, unlike many other aster varieties.
Asters should be planted in an open, sunny position, however, light shading until mid-day seems to do no harm. They prefer an alkaline soil with good winter drainage to ensure good root formation. If your soil is heavy then just add some grit in the bottom of the planting hole to help with establishment. As with all herbaceous plants, clumps should be divided every 3-5 years in early spring, just as the shoots reach ground level. Once established, Monch will tolerate dry conditions but the flower size and height of the plant will shrink accordingly. It has a slightly arching habit, however it does not need staking and can look great at the edge of the border.
This aster is versatile. It’s excellent used with other late flowering perennials and grasses too. Try combining with Miscanthus Morning Light, Helianthus Lemon Queen, Verbena bonariensis, Salvia Purple Rain, Penisetum Karley Rose and Helenium Moerheim beauty. It can also be planted as an understorey for Roses too. The rich-crimson of ‘Darcey Bussell’ with the violets of Monch can provide a vibrant combination that will certainly keep the border interesting for longer.