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Aster Treasure

My Tartarian aster — over six feet tall now — has no color yet. All the rest of my hardy asters are blooming at the same time this year, an unusual show.

The unnamed New England Asters: five feet tall, with 1.5-inch flowers, in purple and the rarer magenta. The New Yorks (A. novi-belgii), from deep blue-purple ‘Professor Anton Kippenberg’ to pale magenta ‘Pink Lady.’ The calico aster, whose flowers have pale purple rays, with centers that start off yellow, then change to dark purplish red, resulting in a display of contrasting colors — and twiggy, stiff branches that grow at right angles to the main stems, giving rise to its variety name ‘Horizontalis.’

Another native I have all over, I think is Drummond’s aster. Three feet tall, with strong stems ending in complex panicles (lilac-like clusters) of tiny flowers in pale blue-purples, it makes a romantic haze of color over much of my yard.

But my favorite this year is one I haven’t identified at all yet. I put it in a row of the Drummonds, but it grows four feet tall, and the stems branch more, making more of a tangle. In fact it’s quite open, with little flowers widely spaced — but they’re an unusual pure white, that stands out.

I found it growing in an unlikely spot as I took a walk waiting for a doctor who was running late. Two feet from the trunk of a maple tree, in a strip two feet wide between a sidewalk and the curb, emerging from the side of a gaping hole in the ground left from some construction. No way would it survive there, even if someone didn’t pull it up to replace it with grass.

In the back of my van, I like to keep a big plastic bin that holds several plastic plant pots, a covered bucket of compost and one of garden soil, a small shovel, a quart of dry fertilizer, and a covered jar of water. I could rescue this plant that was calling out to me, and even repair the spot so it would better support grass. But I didn’t feel good about just taking it.

The house behind it was undergoing renovations. I walked up the temporary front steps and knocked on the door. A workman opened it. How to persuade him? I showed him what I wanted to take, calling it “a rare weed.” He laughed and told me to go ahead.

Photo by C.H. Clark - The white native aster stands out against the purple one.

Text and photo © Copyright 2004 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 1 October 2004

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p.s. By the time this was published, the Tartarian aster was out, too: all the asters blooming at once.