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The thrill of discovery

Gazing out the kitchen window to the back yard, suddenly in the front of the garden I notice a spot of clear pink I can't identify. I can't think of any flowers in that color growing there; I rush out to investigate.

It's a young New England aster, a volunteer seedling putting out a small spray of two-inch flowers on its first year's stalk. Maybe twenty years ago I brought home some wild ones, in the usual purple, and in the rarer but still not hard-to-find magenta-pink; since then they keep self-seeding all over my garden, putting on a powerful fall display (even when they reach five feet and fall over). But this is the first time I've ever seen a true pink!

Volunteers always tickle me, but when one is unusual, I go a bit crazy. I imagine propagating it and spreading it to the world, starting a new cultivar, getting it named after me, getting paid big money by seed companies.... (Marigolds used to grow in just yellows and oranges; in 1954 Burpee offered a ten-thousand-dollar bounty for seed from a white flower. In 1975 Alice Vonk of Sully, Iowa collected the prize.)

Plants that've got me going: The pink garden phlox whose petals were streaked and striped a deeper hue. The small wild aster with larger flowers than usual, and color more blue. Those two didn't survive long. A peony with healthy-looking leaves colored reddish bronze with green veins: that one's lasted several years with no blooms yet. Perhaps I need to replant it a bit higher in the ground (peonies will grow well set too low, but not bloom). I want to see how the flower's affected by whatever bronzes the leaves. Earlier this year I found an angel blush campion that's almost white. I'm waiting to see what its seedlings look like next year.

And this! I search the web — and find the color already available in New England asters: 'Harrington's Pink' and 'Honeysong Pink'. Oh, well: my volunteer is still a treasure to me. Next year it will need moving from this spot too close to the soaker hose (which I didn't use this wet year). A few years ago I learned they don't like moist ground — by killing what at the time was my only magenta one because, since they're so few, I tried to be extra good to it by watering it a lot.


Photos by C.H. Clark
  1. Magenta and purple New England asters, which grew too tall to support their weight, but still look glorious falling all over.
  2. On what I think of as my "mutant peony," shiny red-bronze leaves have pretty contrasting green veins all year.


Text and photos © Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 3 November 2006

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