Gardening: Celebrate Michaelmas with an attractive friend for the garden

Torbay Weekly

Driving around, I'm starting to notice the very gradual and sporadic appearance of twinkling Christmas lights and decorations across Torbay.

This will no doubt culminate in one local family appearing on the local news in front of their domestic illuminations.

When this happens, by my mental calendar we are into deep mid-winter.

For most of us this means there is little to actually plant out in the garden but just more mundane tasks like keeping the weeds in check and raking up leaves - surely there can t be many more up there, can there!

Thankfully, all is not lost and we can still put something in the flower border to freshen it up next year or to give us a longer display into next autumn.

Michaelmas daisies are a cottage garden favourite and can be planted in the ground at this time of year.

If you’re not familiar with this butterfly favourite, then give it a go for a season and I'm sure you won’t regret it.

Not only will you be delighted by their electrifying blue, lilac colours, they will also attract so many different varieties of butterfly, you might, like me, start to buy books on them to excitedly identify them.

They flower from late summer to mid autumn and botanically speaking are members of the aster family.

They are available in different colours across the blue spectrum, pinks and white.

A particular favourite of mine, and many others it seems is ‘Little Carlow’. While being the shape of a daisy these are a deep lilac with a bright yellow crown.

I often think they are the garden version of a beautiful stranger at a party who’s eyes you are inexplicably drawn towards. They have the same effect in the garden.

Many a time when I've been showing off the garden to a disinterested relative, they are drawn straight over to these daisies as if about to strike up a conversation with them.

The slender lilac petals often grow to 3ft, or almost a metre, in height and billow together in the slightest breeze like a blue cloud.

Their long stalks make them ideal for bringing indoors to put in a vase.

They will usually last a good two weeks on the dining room table.

Other varieties have similar attributes but only vary in colour with a slight deviation in petal shape.

Many people swear by ‘Beggarten’ which is a smaller lilac variety to put more discreetly in the front of a border rather than the middle.

I have had good results with ‘Chatterbox’ which is a dusty pink variety and again, smaller, only growing up to a foot or 50cm.

Those just outside Newton Abbot might grow ‘Coombe Fishacre’ although this seems to have more foliage that overpowers the smaller blooms.

The added bonus is that these flowers are perennial so they will come back every year with little bit of thought and care.

Once they have flowered if you cut them back to the ground and add a shovel full of garden compost they will reappear next August like new.

Michaelmas daisies will thrive in any soil that doesn’t suffer from extremes. They don’t like waterlogged ground or anything too dry.

They are the moderates of the border so just ensure they have a drink now and again and they will thrive.

They are so successful, the only real problem you could have apart from mildew is keeping them from leaning forward with the weight of flowers and getting unruly in the border and looking like an old drunk on Christmas Eve.

Michaelmas daisies have been around since the 1930s and are much older than a 1000 lux polar bear that covers the frontage of your house.

If you’re considering this, buy yourself and the butterflies an attractive friend for the garden instead.

You won’t regret celebrating Michaelmas instead for a change.