While asters are normally associated with the autumn garden, Frikart’s aster (Aster x frikartii) blooms during the summer months. A hybrid of Italian A. amellus and Himalayan A. thomsonii, this plant is a welcome addition to the mid-summer mixed border. Starting in June or July, it puts on a show that lasts until late summer or early fall. Although not native to this country, Frikart’s aster is well behaved and non-invasive. It forms a 2- to 3-foot tall, loose, bushy mound with dark green leaves and 2- to 3-inch wide blue-violet blossoms. It prefers full sun to partial shade and tolerates dry soil. Excellent drainage is an absolute must for this plant, especially in the winter. This drought-tolerant plant enjoys a long blooming period and, if dead-headed, can continue blooming well into fall. When deadheading, be careful not to cut off the buds of new flowers that are forming next to the spent blooms.
Four cultivars of Frikart’s aster were developed in the 1920s by German hybridizer Frikart: ‘Wonder of Staffa’ (or ‘Wunder von Stafa’), ‘Monch,’ ‘Jungfrau’ and ‘Eiger.’ Of the four, the two most commonly available in this country are ‘Monch’ and ‘Wonder of Staffa.’ Both have daisy-like blooms with lavender-blue rays and yellow centers. ‘Wonder of Staffa’ blooms earlier than ‘Monch’ and is taller with a looser habit. It has paler lavender-blue blossoms that combine well with deeper blues and yellows in the landscape. According to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, ‘Wonder of Staffa’ was praised in 1939 as “one of the most constant blooming plants in existence producing freely branching sprays of clear lavender-blue flowers in lavish profusion.” The color harmonizes particularly well with deeper shades of lavender-blue and violet. ‘Homestead Purple’ verbena is an excellent companion as well as magenta-colored globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa). Another good companion plant is ‘Grand Parade’ beebalm (Monarda didyma) with its deep violet color.
Frickart’s aster can become floppy as the season progresses. Cutting it back in May or June can improve the growth habit but will delay flowering. Toward the end of the growing season, the foliage tends to become sparse, so it is wise to hide its stalks with a lower-growing plant. Deep purple petunias are ideal for this purpose and offer a stunning contrast with the paler aster blossoms.
Although hardy to Zone 5, Frikart’s aster appreciates being left standing during the winter months and then cut back in spring. It may be propagated though cuttings or division in the spring. Growing from seed is possible but not recommended because the new plant will not be true to color.
While no plant is ever completely deer proof, Frikart’s aster is generally not bothered by either deer or rabbits. It also has good mildew-resistant qualities.
Photo by Magnus Manske