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Sunday 20 April 2014

Lovely 'Little Carlow' leads the aster revival

'LITTLE Carlow' is a variety of aster, or Michaelmas daisy, and it is leading a revival of interest in these excellent flowers. Very popular decades ago, the fortunes of asters waned somewhat for two good reasons.

Many kinds were just too tall and they were prone to unsightly mildew disease. In recent years, shorter varieties have come to the fore and mildew, though still present on many kinds, is not as obvious on smaller plants.

A very beautiful flower of bushy shape to about one metre tall, 'Little Carlow' carries generous sprays of pale violet-blue flowers with contrasting centres of pale mustard, fading to red-purple. It is long-flowering in September and well into October and makes good contrast with all kinds of yellow daisies.

It works well with any plant that shows autumn colour too as the pale blue heightens the effect of yellow, orange and red shades. It also looks superb with feathery grasses.

Given the name, 'Little Carlow' might be expected to have a Carlow connection, but, if it has, it is obscure. The variety was raised by Margaret Thornely, a prolific breeder of asters, in Wiltshire in England in the Thirties. It was given an Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

The plant is a hybrid between two American species: one is the New York aster with good colourful flowers and the other the heart-leaved aster with large airy sprays of smallish white to pale-pink flowers. The hybrid takes something from both parents, the attractive blue colour from one and the sprays of flowers from the other.

Other varieties to look out for include the shorter kinds, such as old favourite bright blue 'Professor Anton Kippenberg', 'Jenny' with double purple-red flowers, densely packed and 'Lady in Blue' with blue flowers, all to knee-height. 'Little Pink Beauty' is pale pink and about the same height.

Taller kinds include 'Andeken an Alma Potchske', a salmon-pink colour; 'Barr's Violet', violet-blue; 'Patricia Ballard', intense pink; 'Harrington's Pink', light shiny pink and 'Ernest Ballard', deep red.

The asters are completely hardy and will grow in cold areas, and to reduce mildew the soil must not be too dry or too fertile.

The smaller kinds are self-supporting and the taller ones are fine in all but exposed gardens, if not over-fed. Asters last for years and can be planted out now.

Sunday Independent

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