This section is from the book "The Gardener V2", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The value of late-flowering hardy flowers is yearly becoming better appreciated. This year, characterised as it has been by its disastrous weather, resulting in a greater dearth of both fruit and flowers than any in the remembrance of the oldest living gardeners, hardy herbaceous plants, and particularly those which flower in autumn, have proved themselves conspicuously superior to the various classes of tender plants which are so generally used for summer and autumn flower-gardening. They have flourished and flowered - most of them out of season, perhaps - in defiance of the adverse weather; and those have had most enjoyment in their gardens who have had the largest number of them employed in their decoration. Doubtless the experience of the present year will stimulate the movement towards the more general culture of the hardy perennial classes of plants, which is one of the healthiest signs of the present time in flower-garden matters. It indicates that the time for an exclusive fashion in the flower-garden, which has long placed a limit to the enjoyment and pleasure of the owners of gardens, is coming to an end, and that the conviction of the superior fitness to our changeable climate of the many splendid hardy flowers which abound amongst the tribes which make up the great class of herbaceous plants, is being borne in on the minds of all who are interested in flower-gardening.
It is notable that a very large number of the autumn - flowering herbaceous plants, especially those that flower very late, are members of the very extensive natural order Composite. One genus alone - the Asters or Starworts - furnishes over a hundred species or so-called species, many of them very beautiful, but many also quite unfit for the purposes of decoration, or so little distinct one from another that the cream of the group may be comprised in a very brief list. But a selection of the best of these should be considered indispensable in every garden which it is desired should be replete with flowers to as late a period of the year as it is possible to obtain them in this country. The following are a few of the best of this genus:-
Pale blue, about 2 feet high, flowering in ordinary seasons from the middle of August to the middle of October.
White and reddish purple, 18 inches to 2 feet high, neat and compact, and very floriferous; flowering in August and September.
Bright blue, about 2 feet high; flowering in September and October.
One of the finest and most floriferous; but being a tall grower (4 to 5 feet), it is somewhat troublesome in the matter of staking, yet the immense showy clustered corymbs of large purplish red flowers, lasting for a couple of months on end, render it a most desirable plant for shrubbery or other mixed borders. It begins to flower in September.
This is similar in stature and general character to the last, and equally desirable. The flowers are deep brilliant blue, and appear in September and October.
This species grows to the height of about 18 inches or 2 feet. The flowers are deep purple, - deeper than those of any other species with which I am acquainted.
Dark purplish blue; flowers very large, in great many-branched corymbs. It has the same objectionable habit as the fourth and fifth named species, being tail and somewhat weak-kneed. Among the Achilleas, Aster ageratum is a very fine and showy autumn-flowering species. The flowers are golden yellow, and appear from July to October, according to the nature of the local climate.
Aster Eupatorium, which usually flowers in July and August, becoming spent generally before September is far advanced, is this year blooming bravely now. By cutting over the stems of Aster Ptarmica about the end of June, a very late bloom of this most useful and desirable species may be obtained. The small white flowers are indispensable for making up bouquets.
Buphthalmum Salicifolium is a very showy autumn flower, not often met with in private gardens. The flowers are large, golden-yellow, and appear in August, September, and October.
Coreopsis Auriculata And Coreopsis Lanceolata are both early autumn flowers, the former often lasting till the end of September or beginning of October. The flowers of both are yellow.
A very striking plant, with very large purplish-red flower-heads; they appear in August and September.
This is the only species fit for ornamental purposes; but objections would in many cases be raised to its somewhat coarse and Thistle-like foliage, yet the plant is a most striking one, and, when in flower, attractive also. The flower-heads are perfectly globular, almost resembling balls of indigo in colour ; they last two or three months.
A very showy Aster-like plant. It grows about 18 inches high, with a branching corymb of beautiful pale-purple flowers, opening in September and the two following months.
A very handsome plant, with large showy orange-yellow flowers, like those of a double Sunflower in miniature. It flowers in August, September, and October.
A very striking plant, somewhat coarse, yet stately in habit, with large yellow flowers, opening from August to October.
Flower-heads deep purple, in long close spikes. The plant grows to the height of 2 or 3 feet, one-half the length of stem being flower-spike; the flowers open in August and September.
The flowers are yellow in terminal, much branching, but nearly erect corymbs; the plant about 18 inches high; flowering from August to November.
One of the very handsomest of autumn-flowering Compositae, but not early enough to be fully enjoyed except in the most favoured parts of Scotland. The plant is quite hardy, but flowers so late in the season that it becomes spoiled before it fully expands. It is well worthy of culture in pots for conservatory decoration, and, as a matter of fact, has for some years been one of the most favoured plants in Covent Garden Market in autumn and early winter. It grows about 18 inches high, the stems terminating in large deep sky-blue flowers.
The Solidagos are a very numerous class, but too much alike in general appearance to present much that is useful from an ornamental point of view. The sort just named is one of the most distinct. It grows erect in a very rigid style to the height of about 3 feet, branching at the top into numerously branched racemose corymbs, the branchlets taking a very horizontal direction from the main stem, which is a very distinctive feature of the species; the flowers, as in nearly every species of Solidago, are yellow.
This is one of the most showy of autumn flowers. The flowers are very large, deep golden-yellow, with a conspicuous black disc. The plant attains to a height of about 3 feet, and the flowers continue throughout September and October.
Blue Aster-like flowers in open corymbs on erect stems, appearing in August and September.
Craigleitii Nursery, Edinburgh.