Aster x Frikatii Monch
Aster x frikartii 'Monch' flowers from July until late September (at least) and it's resilient and healthy as it sends out sprays of large lavender-blue daisies - one after another. More importantly, the light-green foliage is an asset. So many asters are bred from American species found naturally in marsh-like conditions. As a result many succumb to wilt, mildew and generally look miserable in British gardens. Their foliage is often unsightly.
‘Monch’ on the other hand is a hybrid between two species found in dry places and it thrives in British gardens. One parent is A. amellus, the Italian starwort, and the other is a Himalayan species called A. thomsonii found on dry woodland edges. Neither are that spectacular on their own, although both have grace, a long-flowering season and an ability to colonise dry places.
‘Monch’ was one of several deliberate crosses made by a Swiss nurseryman called Frikart circa 1918. All were named after Swiss mountain peaks, but the best is ‘Monch’. Although there is also another extremely similar one called ‘Wunder von Stafa’ bred in 1924.
Crossing these two species was extremely hard and the only other nurseryman who has managed to produce a surviving, similar hybrid of real value is Alan Bloom. He bred a pink called ‘Flora’s Delight’ in 1964, named after his wife. But this short neat plant is not such a stayer as ‘Monch’.
Where do I grow it?
'Monch' reaches 90 cm or three feet and can be grown in any sunny border in good soil. It has a slightly lax habit which makes it an excellent plant for the border front. However it does not need staking. Its rough, dark-green foliage looks handsome by early summer. The arching stems are topped by violet-blue flowers, each with a double row of finely rayed petals set round a golden middle. 'Monch' will tolerate dry conditions and poor soil - but flower size and height shrink accordingly. So best to give it good soil.
How to grow
Asters generally prefer alkaline soil but ‘Monch’ will also need good drainage in winter. Those on heavier ground should add grit to the base of the hole when planting. However sticky clay may prove a problem for this plant due to its alpine provenance.
When planting choose an open site way from trees and add organic material to the planting hole. Either use good garden compost or add some soil-based John Innes no 3. Feed every spring with a slow-release fertiliser. I often use powdered chicken manure (branded as 6X) but blood, fish and bone is also good.
Ideally divide your clumps every third year to keep them vigorous. Do this is in spring just as the plants are racing away. Do not divide or move in autumn - or you will probably lose it in a wet, cold winter. This is a good general rule for all late-flowering plants
Softwood cuttings can also be taken in late spring and these will root easily with a little bottom heat, provided by an electric propagator. But most gardeners simply divide their plants instead.
The large pale, violet-blue daisies are flattered by stronger colours particularly orange-red and purple. Team it with upright plants like Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ a fiery-red branching flower head, heightened by bright-green pleated ‘swords’ for leaves. Or use July-flowering red hot pokers. They include the coral-red slender Kniphofia ‘Nancy’s Red’ and the acid-lemon - and more - substantial ‘Percy’s Pride.
But this aster is versatile. It’s excellent used with later-flowering asters and grasses because it flowers before they get going. Or it can support dusky-coloured roses which might include David Austin’s rich-crimson rose ‘Darcey Bussell’. Or it can keep an early herbaceous border interesting for longer.
Where can I get it?
Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’ is widely available or get it mail order from www.bethchatto.co.uk