It is often said of plants: ‘should be more widely used’, or ‘not often seen in gardens’, and I am pretty sure I know why you could say that of my choice today. It is at its peak in October, and often into November, so it’s not going to make many sales in nurseries and even less in garden centres, because the plant buying public, if they do make a trip to either, are turning their thoughts to buying spring bulbs or (I daren’t even mention the ‘c’ word), to the forthcoming festive season!
So, this late flowering, hardy member of the aster family is well worth seeking out. It is often described as thistle-like or a knapweed, but please don’t let this put you off because it is a trusty and robust little plant that has a season way beyond its flowers. The RHS describes it as ‘compact and poised’, and while I don’t really go along with ‘compact’, ‘poised’ suits it down to the ground!
The foliage is good, dark green and very dissected, almost like a fern, while the upright, wiry stems hold masses of pinky mauve flowers which bear little ‘antennae’ among the petals. Then come the delightful seed heads and on no account cut these down because throughout the winter, right up until March, the old skeleton will give you almost as much pleasure as when the plant is in full flower.
Excellent towards the front of the border, in a naturalistic or gravel garden, and very good with grasses. If you don’t go round your garden every day in the winter, which is something that I love to do, then plant it not too far from the front door or where you can see it from a window.
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