Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'
In my last post I focused on the nefarious weed, Pinellia ternata. So this month I’d like to balance things out and discuss a plant far more pleasing to the eye, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ formerly known as Aster oblonifolium ‘October Skies’. At the Scott Arboretum, this aromatic aster cultivar graces the perennial bed of the West Garden and is also the newest addition to our naturalistic Biostream.
‘October Skies’ is a shorter, bluer, and bushier relative of S. oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, found in the Terry Shane Teaching Garden. While its cultivar name is said to be attributed to the deep blue hue of the autumn sky, I find the flowers of this aster to be more lavender than deep sky blue. Regardless of how you classify them, the colorful blooms of S. oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ look lovely in the fall garden. At a time when many garden plants have already seen their last flowers of the season, ‘October Skies’ provides a profusion of one-inch compound daisy-like flowers atop stems that grow about 18 inches tall.
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ likes full sun and is tolerant of drought and poor soils. It requires very little care and spreads quickly by rhizomes. So although it is a shorter-than-average aster, ‘October Skies’ makes up for its lack of verticality with its impressive horizontal spread. The asters planted last fall at the West Garden, for instance, started out approximately eight inches wide; they now span over three feet!
While the flowers of the fragrant aster do not have a noticeable scent, their oblong, dark green leaves are fragrant when crushed. The plant is successful in attracting migrating butterflies, and other beneficial insects by providing useful nectar. This aster feature, in addition to attractive and easy-to-care-for qualities, make Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ a garden plant that receives my stamp of approval. Especially as cooler weather descends on the Philadelphia area, fragrant asters provide a nice reminder of the bright and cheery colors of summer. Visit the Scott Arboretum to see asters in bloom and to welcome the autumn colors.