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The Plants Bees Love

In this day and time, I would hope gardeners understand the importance of bees and other insects in the garden. However, from time to time, a person comes into the nursery and asks for plants that will NOT attract bees (sigh). They are not really gardeners though, they are just looking for a plant to fill a space. I find myself more and more intrigued by bees although I don't know that much about the different types. I do make note of plants that they like and try to add as many as I can to the garden. Over the past weeks, with watering a daily activity amidst a lingering heat-wave, I've conducted an informal survey and noted the plants that they seem to like the most. Butterfly Weed ( Asclepias tuberosa ) Butterfly Weed ( Asclepias tuberosa ) is one of my favorite perennials and the bees love it too. I don't think I've ever seen a butterfly on it but we don't seem to have many of those. Everybody wants the "Showy Milkweed" (Asclepias speciosa) but I knew


Aster 'Kickin Purple' 
For fall perennials, asters are hard to beat and I've just recently went a bit crazy over them. I've always admired the half-hardy types that appear in garden centers alongside the chrysanthemums for seasonal color in pots. I don't remember having any of the hardier varieties in the old garden but I've added several in the garden here. According to my spread sheet, I have at least five varieties.

The latest is pictured above (Aster 'Kickin Purple'). The "Kickin' series offers a more compact plant that hopefully stays neat and tidy. Advertised as growing only 2' x 2', it appears to adhere to that size so far. There are about six or seven different colors in the series.

The first aster I planted was the old standby Aster frikartii 'Monch'. I have several along the fence border that runs alongside the street. It is the earliest blooming aster and I've seen flowers as early as late July. Normally, the flowers last way up through fall but this year they had faded before I got a chance to photograph them. I've heard people say that it flops badly but I have not had that happen. Full sun exposure helps to counter that problem and you can also cut them back in early summer to stunt the growth.

Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'
If I had to choose a favorite aster, I would probably go with Aster novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'. This is a variety of the New England Aster. The plants are generally loaded with blooms although looking at the photo above, they appear more sparse this year. The color of the blooms are really rich and saturated.

Aster 'Wood's Purple' 
Another favorite is 'Wood's Purple', another compact variety. The photo above was taken last year but this year's flowers were just as lovely. 

Aster pringlei 'Monte Cassino White'

Aster 'Monte Cassino White' blooms much later than the aforementioned varieties. Flowers just opened about two weeks ago. This is a beautiful white aster with tiny, profuse flowers and reminds me of ones you'd see growing along the roadside.

Aster lateriflorus 'Prince' 
Last, but not least, is another late bloomer, Aster 'Prince', also known as the "Calico aster". This one is much different from the others, with dark burgundy foliage. At first, the plant doesn't look that impressive but when it achieves full bloom, which it does just a few days after the first blooms appear, it is literally smothered with tiny white flowers. 

Now, if I don't have enough already, I would like to get a pink variety to go in the Pan Garden in back. I've noticed a few on the Joy Creek website that I am putting on my wishlist.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. You do have a nice collection of Asters. I have a few but I don't know the names of most of them. I have to cut them back because they don't get full sun but they do bloom nice anyway.

  2. You grow such beautiful plants. What's your secret? Food? Selection? Expertise? TLC?

  3. When I first moved to northern California from San Diego I went a bit mad for Asters-they were pretty much an unknown down in zone 10. This was 30 years ago, and in a former garden , but in the last few years I've been increasing my aster inventory. I concur with your opinion of 'Purple Dome' - I have 3 which is a big commitment in my small garden.

  4. You have a spread sheet? I thought saving the plant tags in a box (for 20 years) was a good system... My hat off to your commitment to organization!
    I do love Aster: little care and great rewards as it light up the garden in Autumn. I should consider later booming varieties to extend the bloom period even later into the season.

  5. What a wonderful selection! I especially like your Woods Purple, and I really like how it looks with the neighboring plants. It is a beautiful combination.


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