Agastaches, Asters, and Mums – Oh My!

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' with Dianthus 'Princess Scarlet'

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' with Dianthus 'Princess Scarlet'

All of you who apologize for getting in your Design Workshop contributions right at the end of the month can feel a little smug now, because here I’m doing the same thing to Fran. Sorry Fran!

First, a few comments on her GGW Plant Pick of the Month for September: Agastache. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) was one of the first perennials I grew successfully from seed, and I was very fond of it for a few years, grateful for its speedy growth, its abundant flowers, and its root beer-scented foliage. It taught me an important lesson in perennial propagation, however: If a plant is easy for even a novice gardener to grow from seed, there’s a good probability that it will just as easily grow itself from seed. Enthusiastically. Everywhere.

After pulling out a super-abundance of excess seedlings for several years in a row, I finally managed to get rid of it. I’m not saying it’s a bad plant – far from it – but you really need to keep the seeding issue in mind, and keep the faded flower spikes clipped off to minimize the self-sowing potential.

One thing that lured me back into the world of agastaches was the release of the cultivar ‘Golden Jubilee’. As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, this beauty has clear yellow to red-tinged yellow new foliage. Granted, it too seeds freely, but I can forgive it for that more readily than I can the ordinary green-leaved forms. It does turn kind of a sickly yellow-green in summer heat, so shearing it a few times in summer serves a double purpose: It encourages bright new shoots to form (as in the July shot below), and it keeps the self-sowing to manageable levels.

When the hybrid ‘Blue Fortune’ (a cross between A. foeniculum and A. rugosum) was released a while back, I decided to try it too, because the word was that it did not produce viable seeds: hence, no seedlings! It certainly bloomed its heart out from midsummer well into fall with no deadheading, and no seedlings the next year.

It came back the next year and bloomed pretty well then too, though the clump wasn’t quite as dense.

And by the following spring, it was gone. I suspect it just wore itself out, as some heavy-blooming, later-flowering perennials are prone to do. Now, what puzzles me is that I’ve been seeing what’s touted as ‘Blue Fortune’ appearing in seed exchange lists and even a few seed catalogs. So, what’s the deal? As far as I understand, the true ‘Blue Fortune’ is propagated only by cuttings or division. But somewhere along the line, I guess someone got a mislabeled plant that did set seed? If anyone knows the real scoop on this, please share!

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in some of the western agastaches, mostly A. rupestris (love that pinkish peach color)…

…and this year, a couple of A. cana strains, and A. mearnsii (not ooh-ah, just ordinarily pretty with pink spikes on plants about 2 feet tall). None of these overwinter in my winter-wet southeastern PA garden, so they serve as annuals for me. And I’m all for annuals that get better-looking as the season goes on, so I imagine I’ll always sow a few of these each spring to enjoy their color and form from late summer through frost.

And now, on to the issue of chrysanthemums versus asters. I admit to having a few mums I’m fond of, particularly a pumpkin-orange hybrid whose label disappeared years ago. In the image below, it’s just coming into bloom in September of last year…

…and here it is yesterday, on its way out but doing a nice job echoing the fall color of a cutleaf sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’).

In another week or two, ‘Sheffield Pink’ should finally open (the shot below is from mid-October of 2006, with Ligustrum ‘Swift Creek’). I wish the color were a bit richer, but the plant form is such a perfect mound even without pinching that I think I’d grow it even if it never flowered.

Toward the end of October, a few self-sown mum seedlings appear here and there.

And a bit after that, ‘Mei-Kyo’ bursts into bloom (the image below is from October 29 of last year, with the hips of Rosa rubiginosa):

I still think of gold-and-silver chrysanthemum as Chrysanthemum pacificum, though now it is technically Ajania pacifica. This has such handsome foliage that it really doesn’t need to flower…

…but if we don’t get a freeze while the buds are forming, it can look okay in bloom too.

If I absolutely had to choose between mums and asters, though, I’m pretty sure that I’d have to go with asters. I very much like some of the pink Aster novae-angliae clumps that have seeded around from the original ‘Harrington’s Pink’ I planted years ago. Here, one echoes the fall color of golden Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra  ‘Aureola’):

Here, another sets off the intensity of ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth (Amaranthus):

And here, yet another mingles with a tiny-flowered white aster that seeded in from the nearby meadow:

I also adore – as I’ve read that many of you do too – the tall-stemmed, late-blooming flowers of Tatarian aster (A. tataricus, shown here in mid-November of 2006 against the stems of Heptacodium miconioides):

‘Bluebird’ smooth aster (A. laevis) is much shorter and blooms about two months earlier (around early September here), but it’s cute too, and it seems to tolerate a fair bit of shade.

But my very favorite, wouldn’t-ever-be-without aster is an easy pick: Aster oblongifolius. I originally bought both ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ and ‘October Skies’, but they’ve crossed and seeded around over the years, and the seedlings all pretty much look alike to me. The only problem I have is that either mice or voles are very fond of eating the roots and crowns during the winter. But even if the original plants don’t make it, there are always volunteers coming along, naturally forming tight, topiary-like, 2- to 3-foot-tall and-wide mounds that are covered with buds by late summer and smothered in purple-blue blooms from early September well into October. Such a pretty thing, wherever it is! Below, it’s mingling with the seedheads of Chasmanthium latifolium and the red fall foliage of ‘Shenandoah’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum)…

…and here, it’s anchoring the corner of a foundation planting, with yellow-leaved Briant Rubidor weigela and ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ honeysuckle (Lonicera) in orangey fall color:

Now, a parting thought for any of you who have actually read this far: Perhaps It really doesn’t matter whether you prefer mums or asters, as long as you use them effectively, whether your goal is to create a quiet harmony or a traffic-stopping spectacle?

(If you really want to know more about this mountain-o-mums, you can read all about it in More Mum Madness.)

About Nancy J. Ondra

Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.

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13 Responses to Agastaches, Asters, and Mums – Oh My!

  1. Benjamin October 8, 2008 at 9:29 pm #

    I thought we were done with pictures of that mum mountain. Alas. The nightmares will undoubtedly return. I had to go to therapy last year to get rid of them….

    Sorry about that, Benjamin. You’re one of the few people who have been reading here a whole year. I didn’t want our newer visitors to miss out on the spectacle. Someone has to keep those therapists working.
    -Nan

  2. Angela (Cottage Magpie) October 9, 2008 at 12:03 am #

    Fantastic photos! Your sense of color and texture is just wonderful. I’m sad that I had missed the agastache plant of the month, because it’s about the only thing blooming in my garden! I just love it — I’ve got Tutti Frutti, Blue Fortune and Golden Jubilee now, and I covet many others!
    ~Angela :-)

    It’s still not too late, Angela! If you write a post about your agastaches, leave a link for Fran on the main PPotM post for September.
    -Nan

  3. Frances October 9, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    Hi Nan, I need to print out your posts to use as shopping lists! I am going along admiring your combos, you are the champ! and then you launch into the mum and aster debate. And like Benjamin, I have read every single one of your posts!, my eyes were damaged from the mum pile photo, you need to put a warning ahead of it. The little blue aster has shot to number one on the must have list. I must have it NOW!
    Frances

    Cool, so we have *two* loyal readers! (Kidding – we know there are a few more of you out there, and we thank you.) And ok, I deeply, humbly, and sincerely apologize to all who were injured in the reading of this post to the bitter end. But think of it this way: I went to the Technicolor mum mountain in person so I could take the photos and share them with all of you. (Hey, maybe that’s how I ended up developing glaucoma…hmmm.)
    -Nan

  4. James Golden October 9, 2008 at 7:17 am #

    Thanks for the low down on your favorite asters. Can you recommend any that take to wet conditions, especially through winter? I have only one New England aster that survived (out of about 30 plugs from Prairie Nursery) probably because it’s over a well drained septic field.

    I’m surprised that the New England asters didn’t do well for you, James. Both my garden and my meadow are quite wet in winter, and the NE asters grow happily and seed around freely. Maybe it would help to get some starter plants closer to home? Others that grow on their own in my meadow and seed into the garden are hairy aster (A. pilosus), white heath aster (A. ericoides), and calico aster (A. lateriflorus). Maybe you could consider getting seeds or plants through Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in New Hope, PA.
    -Nan

  5. Frances October 9, 2008 at 7:28 am #

    Hi again Nan, I just ordered October Skies and one called the Tennessee aster, A. paludosus from Sunlight gardens, a TN nursery that specializes in Southeast natives.

    Good for you! I’m not familiar with A. paludosus, so I just Googled it and found the listing at Sunlight. Looks like a great choice! You’ll have to let us know how it performs for you.
    -Nan

  6. linda October 9, 2008 at 7:42 am #

    your color and texture combinations are always inspiring Nan.

    That mum mountain is indeed a spectacle! My ex-mother-in-law, a lifelong classical music fan, used to say rock music hurt her ears. The mum mountain hurts my eyes! Madness is a good way to describe it!

    I really need to get the spring view with the pansies; it’s still a spectacle but a bit easier on the eyes. And to be fair, Ott’s itself is a popular spot with many area plant geeks; it has a great conservatory and a number of greenhouses.
    -Nan

  7. Ken from Sweden October 9, 2008 at 7:47 am #

    I never stop to be amazes about your pictures and your combination of your plants.
    It is just beautiful!!
    The most of them we have but not in such large plant.
    And I dont think they are so beautiful at the same time as yours.
    Maby it is beacose we dont live in same climate.
    Ken

    Thank you, Ken. Yes, I suspect that our summers are longer and warmer than yours, so we here in PA can have good luck with more heat-loving plants. But then, we’d be delighted to grow some of the plants that do so well for you!
    -Nan

  8. Kim October 9, 2008 at 8:21 am #

    Yay! I have a plant of the month – I just added ‘Black Adder’ and ‘Golden Jubilee’ to my border, and I’m excited to see how they do next year. The foliage of ‘Golden Jubilee’ really grabbed me, and I thought it would provide great foliage interest as well as flowers. Alas, I’m sure my placing in the border will require some rework, but I’m still looking forward to see what spring brings.

    Hi there, Kim! You may find the ‘Golden Jubilee’ does the rearranging for you. I have mixed luck with the plants overwintering, but that’s okay, because the seedlings pop up in delightfully unexpected places.
    -Nan

  9. Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 9, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    Well, Halloween is coming soon, so I suppose the photo of the Mum Mountain is appropriate. I have long appreciated Aster tataricus and Symphyotrichum leave pur. ‘Bluebird,’ but your photos last year of the oblongifolius cultivars convinced me to finally give them a try. I now have 3 baby ‘October Skies’ blooming in my garden. I expect great things from them.

    I hope ‘October Skies’ pleases you as much as it does me, MMD. And in a side note, an observation: I generally use the RHS Plant Finder to check nomenclature, but it’s now using Aster laevis instead of Symphyotrichum, which I had finally just memorized. Anyone here know if all of the asters have been put back together?
    -Nan

  10. our friend Ben October 9, 2008 at 11:14 am #

    AAAAAAHHHH!!!! You tricked me, slipping that photo of Ott’s Mountain’o'Mums in there just as I was relaxed and enjoying your fall display! Grrrr. Great tip about cutting back Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’—I’ll try that with mine next year. And all I can say is, thank God we don’t actually have to choose between mums and asters! They’re both so wonderful, that would be a shame. Er… ‘Black Adder’?! Do tell!

    Don’t get too excited about ‘Black Adder’, color-wise; to my eyes, it’s a washy purple-blue, pretty much like the species A. foeniculum. But it could be worth growing for the name value alone!
    -Nan

  11. Nancy Bond October 9, 2008 at 11:18 am #

    The color in your garden is just spectacular!

    Thanks, Nancy! This is definitely my favorite time of year in the garden.
    -Nan

  12. Blackswampgirl Kim October 12, 2008 at 2:51 pm #

    I’m with Benjamin on the subject of Mums, but I admit that I really like YOUR pink mum with the ‘Hopi Red Dye’… why does that look nice to me, when the HRD and sedum ‘Matrona’ combo in my own yard looks horrendous to my eye?!!!

    Oh, and I adore the bed with the ‘Red Threads’ (I think?) alternanthera, coleus (maybe ‘Alabama Sunset’ and ‘Sedona’ in there?) and such. I’ve coveted that alternanthera for so long that I’m going to give in and mail order it next spring–I can never find it locally for some reason, even though several corporate landscapers use it in edgier developments.

    (Oh, and is that silver sage? Wow!)

    See, I would have thought ‘Matrona’ and ‘Hopi Red Dye’ would look great together. Are you sure you’re just not being too critical? You wouldn’t do that, right?

    The alternanthera in the shot with the ‘Golden Jubilee’ anise hyssop is Alternanthera reineckii (at least, that’s how it was labeled). It was a real spreader, so I’m very glad it wasn’t hardy, even though it was pretty. And yep, that is Salvia argentea with the Chrysanthemum pacificum.
    -Nan

  13. Pam/Digging October 20, 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    I remember your post about that mum mountain from last year too. Eek!

    But the images from your own garden, as always, are simply mouth-watering. I love your color contrasts and your color echoes. You pair plants so well. Rock on!

    Ok, I *promise* not to subject anyone to the mum mountain again. Seriously. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll capture and share the big pile o’pansies next spring. Watch for it!
    -Nan