Another great plant group for the fall garden is the asters, and the best of these is ‘Bluebird’ smooth aster. I have many asters , and I’ve profiled them before, but Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ is my hands-down favorite and seems to be a favorite of bees, hoverflies, wasps, and butterflies too.
This fantastic plant is such a beautiful clear blue, a color that is so hard to find in the fall garden. I have taken cuttings and moved them about, so I have a lot of it now. I think it is better than the shorter, but later-blooming ‘October Skies,’ shown below, which I also grow. Just remember to cut ‘Bluebird’ back one or two times before August. With all the rain we’ve had, I didn’t cut mine back enough so I’ve been forced to stake it all over the garden.
‘October Skies’ is just starting to bloom so the photos above are from previous years.
‘Bluebird‘ was selected for introduction in 1994 by Dr. Richard Lighty of Mt. Cuba Center. It was found in a Guilford, Connecticut garden in 1988. I think spontaneously-occurring variations of plants are so fascinating. Just when we think we know all about plants, they up and make a new and sometimes better variety of themselves. While I wouldn’t appreciate that of something invasive, I sure do like it in asters. ‘Bluebird’ doesn’t get rust or any other aster diseases, another plus. Neither does ‘October Skies.’
I also grow S. ericoides, heath aster, which is well-liked by pollinators. It has tiny white or sometimes blue or pink flowers on long arching stems. It is an unruly character that also grows naturally in my shady wooded areas, but I like its frothy presence in the garden this time of year too.
Drummond’s aster, S. drummondii, s really aggressive in my garden so I’m always pulling up big hunks of it. I will never get rid of it. I simply try to tame its aggressive ways.
Tartarian aster, Aster tataricus ‘Jindai,’ a beautiful, tall, straight-stemmed drink of water, lives here too. It and S. novae-angliae ‘Hella Lacy’ are blooming next to each other now.
Other asters in my garden’s repertoire, ‘Alma Potschke’, ‘September Ruby,’ ‘Raydon’s Favorite,’ and ‘Bonnie Blue,’ are not blooming yet. We need something for the end of October I suppose.
S. carolinianus, syn. Aster carolinianus, Carolina climbing aster, is growing every which way on a tuteur in the garden and started to bloom yesterday. When I saw it, I felt like an old friend had returned.
Good news on the Monarch butterfly front, numbers are up for the migration south. I’m seeing four to six Monarch butterflies in my garden every day, and I saw part of the migration high up in the sky on Sunday. It was a thrill. I did a video on Instagram of one of the Monarchs in my garden two days ago. This morning, a cold front and rain came through so all of the butterflies are shivering in the native oak trees above my garden.
In addition to Monarchs, I’ve seen so many Pipevine Swallowtails this week, There must be some pipevine around here somewhere to have so many. The photo below doesn’t even look real does it?
Even though we have quite a few Monarchs passing through, the most prolific butterfly at Little Cedar Garden is the Gulf Fritillary. Males and females are all over the false vervain and now that the hummingbirds seem to be gone, they think it’s all theirs. They are small, but feisty butterflies that chase off the Monarchs and the Spicebush Swallowtails. Their antics make me laugh. I grow passion flower vine for them. I found a place along the split-rail fence where it can trail.
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Giant Swallowtails are long gone. I miss them but will look forward to seeing them again next year.
If you plant it they will come. So, in addition to saving the Monarchs, how about we plant for other butterflies and pollinators? It isn’t hard, and they won’t bother you while sipping nectar in your garden. Honestly, saving the creatures is really up to the gardeners. We’re the ones who decide which flowers, shrubs, and trees to plant. Get rid of some of that Bermuda grass and plant something you and your pollinators will enjoy.
Okay, enough preaching. My whole garden yesterday, in the sunshine, was abuzz with creatures. If you want to feed bees and butterflies before fall is over, plant asters especially ‘Bluebird.’