Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Ericoides Clio.

Fig. Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Ericoides Clio.

The flower gardener who, in the old days, looked forward to the autumn with dismay, because it brought destruction to his tender bedders, now does so with happy anticipation, because with it comes the flowering period of one of the most gracious of hardy flowers - the Michaelmas Daisy.

A fairly representative collection of this magnificent plant will fill the garden with beauty from August to November. It will present a range of growth from 6 inches to 6 feet in height; of size of bloom from a threepenny bit to a crown-piece; of colour from white to lilac, lavender, blue, mauve, purple, and violet, and from blush to pink, rose, and crimson. Its main charm, however, will lie in none of these things, but in its unrestrained grace, lightness, and freedom of blooming.

Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Puniceus.

Fig. Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Puniceus.

With the advent of September a great many of the finest border flowers begin to decline, and every day sees them lose more and more of their freshness. Flowers fade, leaves become rusty, and stems droop. A sombre shade steals over the border, invisible to the casual observer, but all too plain to the eye which has watched it from the first breaking of spring. It is at this turning point that the star of the Michaelmas Daisy rises, to brighten the dull days of autumn with its cheerful rays.

Perhaps the cult of the Dahlia has hitherto kept the perennial Aster in the background, but why two plants so completely dissimilar should ever have come into competition is difficult to comprehend. The Dahlia is a tender florists' flower, of high rank and beauty admittedly, but out of place in the mixed border, where, with all its brilliancy, it is incongruous. The Dahlia lover should give his favourites a special bed. The Michaelmas Daisy, per contra, is a perfect border flower, of unsullied character as to hardiness. Its softly tinted blossoms show up best against a background of shrubs, and when the tender autumn light steals on, its satiny mauves and dusky violets have an inexpressibly refined yet glowing warmth of colouring.

Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Flora.

Fig. Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) Flora.

To get the full beauty from the Michaelmas Daisies they must be grown in deep, rich soil, and under frequent division. It is even well to renew them from cuttings, which give plants of great vigour. The author has had very gratifying results from striking cuttings of young growths from the base in gritty soil in a cold frame directly they could be secured in late winter or early spring. But this is a luxury rather than a necessity.

If division is practised - and it should be done at least every other year if the finest plants are to be secured - let it be performed directly growth appears, which, in the case of some varieties, especially in mild districts, may be early in February. The larger sorts should be placed in the border near early-blooming plants, which can be cut back as they fade to make room for the Asters. This is a better plan than transplanting the latter from nursery beds when they come into bud, for they are quite liable to die away instead of advancing.

Inasmuch as the varieties often differ from the species in time of flowering, it is scarcely wise to endeavour to classify the following by period of bloom, but it may be said that those named will give flowers amongst them from early August to November. A classification as to height is, however, useful, and it may be said that those marked (a) are dwarf - 6 to 18 inches; (6) medium - 18 inches to 3 feet; and (c) tall - upwards of 3 feet.

While several of the old species are still worth growing, we now have a large selection of beautiful varieties from which to make our choice. The dwarf Alpinus (a), for instance, in itself a good plant, gives us splendid forms in albus, roseus, and superbus. Amellus (6), an excellent Aster, gives us, in addition to the valuable old variety Bessarabicus, magnificent varieties in Framfieldii, Onward, and Riverslea. The first of this grand trio is one of the most valuable Michaelmas Daisies grown, the height being 2 to 2 1/2 feet, the habit bushy, the flowering abundant, and the colour - bright rose - extremely pleasing. Cordifolius (b) has in its train the graceful elegans, and diffusus (a) the distinct and beautiful variety horizontalis, a dwarf, bushy, October bloomer. Ericoides (b) is late, and should be grown in mild districts, also variety Clio. Laevis (b) has a charming bevy of daughters, of which Ariadne, Calliope, and formosissimus may be named. The excellent old Novae-Angliae (c) is now dropping out, its place being taken by the fine varieties Mrs. J. F. Rayner and William Bowman. Novi-Belgii (c), too, has to fight hard for a place in competition with its offspring, of which laevigatus, Daisy Hill, Flora, Robert Parker, and White Spray are a few of the best. Puniceus (c) is a blue September bloomer. Tradescantii (c) produces charming sprays for cutting, and so does vimineus (c), of which Cassiope is a good variety.