CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Cotswold Life today CLICK HERE

Asters at Old Court Nurseries

PUBLISHED: 10:58 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 February 2013

The jewel-like colours of the Jubilee Bed

The jewel-like colours of the Jubilee Bed

When Michaelmas daisies fell from favour, one garden kept faith. Words and pictures by Mandy Bradshaw

Asters, swept from popularity by the conifer beds of the seventies, have been gradually regaining their place in the autumn garden. Once again, these dainty daisies in shades of mauve and pink are being valued for the late season colour they provide.



Yet, even when asters were at their most unfashionable, one garden never gave up on them. Old Court Nurseries has been growing asters for more than 100 years ago and today holds the National Collection, with nearly 400 different varieties.



The nursery was started by the great plantsman Ernest Ballard in 1906. Threatened with losing his gardener unless he got rid of hundreds of aster seedlings in his garden, he bought a field opposite his home in Colwell in which to grow them. At first he had no intention of starting a commercial enterprise, but the discovery of a chance seedling with a double row of petals, or rays, changed everything. Ballard sent the plant, which he named 'Beauty of Colwall', to the RHS' aster trials in 1907 and it was awarded a first class certificate, the only plant out of 300 to receive the accolade.



He began breeding asters in earnest, concentrating on developing shorter plants in a wider range of shades.



"Ernest Ballard changed the look of Michaelmas daisies," explains Paul Picton, who runs the nursery today with his wife Meriel. "He eventually got the stronger colours we see today."



Paul's father, Percy, joined the nursery as manager in 1948 and took over after Ballard's death in 1952, putting in display beds and continuing to develop new varieties.



Then horticultural fashion changed and herbaceous borders were replaced with conifer, shrub and heather beds. The nursery began to concentrate on other plants.



"Michaelmas daisies were very much on the backburner," says Paul, "though we kept about 70 varieties going."



It wasn't until the early 1980s, when Paul and his wife took over, that the pendulum swung back in favour of asters.



"We really wanted to go back to raising one thing and we decided they had had long enough in the doldrums."



Their stock was increased when they were given a collection of asters amassed by Miss Isobel Allen near Bristol and soon they were awarded National Collection status. Vital publicity in the form of newspaper articles followed, and the public was once again clamouring for plants.



"It was an accident really," comments Paul. "It was really fortunate they got the publicity."



Today there is a steady stream of visitors to the nursery near Malvern and the spring mail order service does brisk trade.



Over the years, the couple have gradually altered the one-and-half-acre display garden, known as The Picton Garden, concentrating more on asters, with just a few late-flowering perennials to add interest, and grasses and shrubs for structure.



Mown grass has given way to gravel paths that snake around the densely planted beds, while varied planting heights and beech hedges screen views, allowing only glimpses of other parts of the garden.



"You don't want to see it all at once," explains Paul.



One of the highlights is the Jubilee Bed, which is planted with nothing but asters. Planted en masse, they are a breathtaking sight. There is the deep pink of 'Brightest and Best', the paler shades of 'Peter Harrison' and 'Lassie', dark purple of 'Chequers', the aptly named 'Blue Danube' and the contrasting tone of 'Boningale White'.



Each spring the plants are lifted and divided, keeping the display fresh and vigorous.



In contrast, asters are just one of a cast of many in the 'Prairie Bed'. This area demonstrates how they can be used in a late summer border alongside solidago, purple aconitum, Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and the bright yellow of Rudbeckia deamii, which pick up the colour of the asters' central discs. Still flowering well into autumn, it is a beautiful example of how to extend a garden's season.



Nearby is the 'Century Garden', started to commemorate the nursery's anniversary. Purple berberis is used as hedging alongside the paths, their colour echoed in Cotinus 'Royal Prince.' There are a group of hydrangeas, gingko, fastigiate holly and limey Cotinus c. 'Golden Spirit'.



The woodland, with its log-edged, winding path, sees clumps of bamboo, numerous acers, ferns and hostas. There are hamamelis, metasequoia and a swamp cypress.



Elsewhere, there are asters teamed with the striking orange spikes of Kniphofia rooperi, dark-leaved eupatorium, set against the delicate foliage of molinia, or the silver of astelia.



Some gardeners regard asters as troublesome, as many are prone to mildew. Paul advised spraying plants regularly, or growing mildew resistant varieties, such as Aster novae angliae or Aster amellus.



Plants are best grown in open, sunny borders in soil that is moisture retentive, although Aster amellus needs good winter drainage.



Colours range from white, through pink to deep, rich purples and reds and it is possible to have asters in flower from July to November, although autumn is the more common time to see them. Indeed, while their botanical name comes from the Greek and means 'A Star', their common name of Michaelmas daisy refers to their use in decorating churches for Michaelmas Day on September 29 and their flowering is triggered by shortening hours of daylight.



Among the more popular varieties are the dwarf Aster novi belgiii 'Jenny', which has bright purple-red, double flowers the larger, true blue A. novi belgiii 'Marie Ballard' and A. novae angliae 'Helen Picton', which is deep violet-purple.



Although asters are generally tough plants that require little attention, established clumps are best divided every few years, depending on the variety, in March or early April - the only safe time to divide Aster amellus varieties. Doing this keeps plants vigorous and enables stock to be increased.



Meanwhile, Paul is constantly trying to breed new asters - shorter New England varieties in particular. It is a long process as it takes three years before anything worthwhile is identified, another three years to trial it and two years to build up stocks.



In addition, as well as looking to the future, he is also keen to track down any old varieties.



"If anyone has got a garden that has been there from the 1930s with asters in it, I would be interested to know about it."



The Picton Garden, Old Court Nurseries, Colwall, near Malvern, is open daily for the National Gardens Scheme from August 27 until October 14 from 11am to 5pm. Visitors are welcome by appointment until October 28, call 01684 540416. Admission is 3, children, free. For more information, visit www.autumnasters.co.uk




Mandy Bradshaw



Asters, swept from popularity by the conifer beds of the seventies, have been gradually regaining their place in the autumn garden. Once again, these dainty daisies in shades of mauve and pink are being valued for the late season colour they provide.



Yet, even when asters were at their most unfashionable, one garden never gave up on them. Old Court Nurseries has been growing asters for more than 100 years ago and today holds the National Collection, with nearly 400 different varieties.



The nursery was started by the great plantsman Ernest Ballard in 1906. Threatened with losing his gardener unless he got rid of hundreds of aster seedlings in his garden, he bought a field opposite his home in Colwell in which to grow them. At first he had no intention of starting a commercial enterprise, but the discovery of a chance seedling with a double row of petals, or rays, changed everything. Ballard sent the plant, which he named 'Beauty of Colwall', to the RHS' aster trials in 1907 and it was awarded a first class certificate, the only plant out of 300 to receive the accolade.



He began breeding asters in earnest, concentrating on developing shorter plants in a wider range of shades.



"Ernest Ballard changed the look of Michaelmas daisies," explains Paul Picton, who runs the nursery today with his wife Meriel. "He eventually got the stronger colours we see today."



Paul's father, Percy, joined the nursery as manager in 1948 and took over after Ballard's death in 1952, putting in display beds and continuing to develop new varieties.



Then horticultural fashion changed and herbaceous borders were replaced with conifer, shrub and heather beds. The nursery began to concentrate on other plants.



"Michaelmas daisies were very much on the backburner," says Paul, "though we kept about 70 varieties going."



It wasn't until the early 1980s, when Paul and his wife took over, that the pendulum swung back in favour of asters.



"We really wanted to go back to raising one thing and we decided they had had long enough in the doldrums."



Their stock was increased when they were given a collection of asters amassed by Miss Isobel Allen near Bristol and soon they were awarded National Collection status. Vital publicity in the form of newspaper articles followed, and the public was once again clamouring for plants.



"It was an accident really," comments Paul. "It was really fortunate they got the publicity."



Today there is a steady stream of visitors to the nursery near Malvern and the spring mail order service does brisk trade.



Over the years, the couple have gradually altered the one-and-half-acre display garden, known as The Picton Garden, concentrating more on asters, with just a few late-flowering perennials to add interest, and grasses and shrubs for structure.



Mown grass has given way to gravel paths that snake around the densely planted beds, while varied planting heights and beech hedges screen views, allowing only glimpses of other parts of the garden.



"You don't want to see it all at once," explains Paul.



One of the highlights is the Jubilee Bed, which is planted with nothing but asters. Planted en masse, they are a breathtaking sight. There is the deep pink of 'Brightest and Best', the paler shades of 'Peter Harrison' and 'Lassie', dark purple of 'Chequers', the aptly named 'Blue Danube' and the contrasting tone of 'Boningale White'.



Each spring the plants are lifted and divided, keeping the display fresh and vigorous.



In contrast, asters are just one of a cast of many in the 'Prairie Bed'. This area demonstrates how they can be used in a late summer border alongside solidago, purple aconitum, Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and the bright yellow of Rudbeckia deamii, which pick up the colour of the asters' central discs. Still flowering well into autumn, it is a beautiful example of how to extend a garden's season.



Nearby is the 'Century Garden', started to commemorate the nursery's anniversary. Purple berberis is used as hedging alongside the paths, their colour echoed in Cotinus 'Royal Prince.' There are a group of hydrangeas, gingko, fastigiate holly and limey Cotinus c. 'Golden Spirit'.



The woodland, with its log-edged, winding path, sees clumps of bamboo, numerous acers, ferns and hostas. There are hamamelis, metasequoia and a swamp cypress.



Elsewhere, there are asters teamed with the striking orange spikes of Kniphofia rooperi, dark-leaved eupatorium, set against the delicate foliage of molinia, or the silver of astelia.



Some gardeners regard asters as troublesome, as many are prone to mildew. Paul advised spraying plants regularly, or growing mildew resistant varieties, such as Aster novae angliae or Aster amellus.



Plants are best grown in open, sunny borders in soil that is moisture retentive, although Aster amellus needs good winter drainage.



Colours range from white, through pink to deep, rich purples and reds and it is possible to have asters in flower from July to November, although autumn is the more common time to see them. Indeed, while their botanical name comes from the Greek and means 'A Star', their common name of Michaelmas daisy refers to their use in decorating churches for Michaelmas Day on September 29 and their flowering is triggered by shortening hours of daylight.



Among the more popular varieties are the dwarf Aster novi belgiii 'Jenny', which has bright purple-red, double flowers the larger, true blue A. novi belgiii 'Marie Ballard' and A. novae angliae 'Helen Picton', which is deep violet-purple.



Although asters are generally tough plants that require little attention, established clumps are best divided every few years, depending on the variety, in March or early April - the only safe time to divide Aster amellus varieties. Doing this keeps plants vigorous and enables stock to be increased.



Meanwhile, Paul is constantly trying to breed new asters - shorter New England varieties in particular. It is a long process as it takes three years before anything worthwhile is identified, another three years to trial it and two years to build up stocks.



In addition, as well as looking to the future, he is also keen to track down any old varieties.



"If anyone has got a garden that has been there from the 1930s with asters in it, I would be interested to know about it."



The Picton Garden, Old Court Nurseries, Colwall, near Malvern, is open daily for the National Gardens Scheme from August 27 until October 14 from 11am to 5pm. Visitors are welcome by appointment until October 28, call 01684 540416. Admission is 3, children, free. For more information, visit www.autumnasters.co.uk




Mandy Bradshaw



0 comments

More from Homes & Gardens

Christmas in the Wilson household is a heartwarming, traditional family affair

Read more

From 1970s horror to 21st-century chic, Sami and Kate Attia have transformed their beautiful Regency apartment in the city of Bath

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

Property prices across Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds have risen steadily over the last few years, reflecting the trend across the country. But which area has shown the most dramatic hike in prices recently, and how does your postcode and house type compare with others in the area? You may be surprised to see the results...

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

From mini Norway spruces to luxury Nordman firs, here are eight of the best places to get a luscious, green tree in the Cotswolds this festive season

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

After a new home in the Cotswolds or looking to relocate within the region? We bring you 16 of the best housing developments in the area

Read more

Neil and Alison Smith wanted a project, but then their old coach house began to reveal its interesting little glitches

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

When your wood flooring is in need of TLC, help is at hand, says Scarlett Harris of ATC in Cheltenham

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

Martin Smart, a director at Shipston-based Hayward Smart Architects, extols the value of appointing an architect

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

We look through the keyhole of some of the Cotswolds’ most luxurious houses on the property market

Read more
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As we head into Autumn, the change in season is all around us. From the leaves on the trees turning burnt orange and fiery red, to dark mornings and nights bookending our days. As we put the clocks back an hour to battle the darkness, here’s some top tips on how you can keep your home warm and costs down this Autumn.

Read more

Sometimes it can seem like destiny plays a hand at where we end up living, as Fiona and John Owen discovered when they found their dream converted chapel in Chalford

Read more
Friday, August 31, 2018

Rural energy provider, Calor, gives some top tips for homeowners wanting to make their houses cosy and warm in time for the colder months.

Read more

Water voles and trench warfare were just two of the problems faced by the family renovating a 1720s hunting lodge

Read more

The small, dark rooms of this 1850s cottage near Tetbury were completely reconfigured to open up the space

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search