29th September. Michaelmas.

Today is traditionally the first day of autumn. Although it is sad to see  the end of another summer, there are some exciting flowers to be enjoyed at this time of the year.

Autumn  flowering gentians have always been a problem for me. I  know they like acid soil and so I keep them in a pot or a trough. But still they die. The spring flowering Gentiana verna might linger for a year or two, but the autumn ones disappear. For years I averted my eyes when I saw them looking so enticing in the nursery. But one day when I was reading  the poem, Bavarian Gentians by D.H. Lawrence, I  had the idea of enjoying them in a pot on the table and then not worrying whether they survived another year or not. After all, they are cheaper than a bunch of flowers and you throw  those away after they have bloomed without a thought .

This is one of the last of  Lawrence’s poems and he wrote it shortly before his death. The idea of the death of the summer and  Persephone’s return to the underworld in the Greek myth,  was clearly conflated in his mind with the thought of his own approaching death.

Bavarian Gentians.

By D. H. Lawrence

‘Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s
                           gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
                         light,
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
down the way Persephone goes, just now in the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is married to darkness…’

I haven’t tried growing Bavarian gentians, Gentiana bavarica, as even the great Farrar found them miffy, although he planted them on the river bank where they should have been happy. He said that shortly after planting he found; ‘like the miller’s daughter, there a lovely corpse she lay’.  If he had trouble with them, then I haven’t a hope. The autumn ones that are supposed to be easier come from Japan or China. So on my table, I have Gentiana sino-ornata which George Forrest found in Yunnan in 1904. I believe it is supposed to be one of the easiest, which doesn’t say much for the others. I had never thought of them as looking torch-like until I read Lawrence’s poem. Unlike poor tubercular Lawrence,  I don’t see torches to guide me to the underworld. The colour is such an intense blue, I feel as if I have a bowl of  jewels on the table to brighten up my day.

Gentiana sino-ornata

Gentiana sino-ornata

In the spirit of hope over experience, I am trying a Japanese Gentiana ‘Blue Sapphire’ outside. At least I can enjoy it this year, even if it  won’t stay around for next autumn.

Gentiana 'Sapphire Blue'

Gentiana ‘Sapphire Blue’

But gentians aren’t the only Michaelmas pleasures. Now is the time for Michaelmas Daisies. Even if we now have to call them Symphyiotrichum we can still enjoy them.  ‘A rose by any other name ..’ If you avoid  Aster novi-belgii and go for Aster novae-angliae you don’t get troubled by mildew. They brighten up the border at this time of the year. And bees love them.


And as if these Michaelmas treats aren’t enough, we have chrysanthemums to look forward to and the nerines are just starting.  This Nerine bowdenii is hardy,  but in the greenhouse are all the tender ones. But my  lovely nerines deserve a post to themselves.

Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

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42 Responses to 29th September. Michaelmas.

  1. karen says:

    Those asters are looking absolutely stunning. I do love this time of year. There’s still so much colour to enjoy. Thanks for sharing your lovely photos.

  2. Kris P says:

    How I wish I could grow such a profusion of asters! At the moment, I’m just hoping to keep my newest acquisition alive through our ongoing heatwave.

  3. You’ve made me miss Asters now, though I have started another kind from seed for the winter. We will see how they like Florida in the winter. The Gentians are worth whatever you paid for them! Do you have HollyTone in the UK? That might help to grow them.
    Having recently learned the meaning of faffing, please enlighten me to the meaning of miffy?

    • Chloris says:

      I’ ve never heard of Hollytone here. I give them an acid soil but I think they need snowmelt and mists and mountain air. Miffy means difficult to please.

      • Aha, my miffy volcanic origin plants like the Hollytone fertilizer. The soil here is neutral or high pH. It is an organic acidifying fertilizer made for Ericaceous plants. Made from ground up feathers and weird things like that, drives my dogs crazy when I use it.

  4. Pauline says:

    Your gentians are such an amazing blue, worth all the trouble I think!

  5. Brian Skeys says:

    The garden can look so wonderful this time of year, the Asters are the stars of the show, you can understand why William Robinson called them Starworts.

    • Chloris says:

      Indeed, asters, cyclamen and colchicums are the stars right now. In fact aster means star. Robinson was a one for inventing names wsn’ t he? Goodness, how would it be if we all made up names? Chaos.

  6. Christina says:

    I think you are right about having a pot of something you like; think how much some people spend on annual bedding or as you say a bunch of flowers, and there’s always the chance they’ll survive until next year. I’m not so patiently looking for the first blooms on my Nerines!

    • Chloris says:

      If I hadn’ t read that poem I wouldn’ t have thought of having gentians in a pot. But as long as they are in a sunny spot they do fine. I mist them regularly.
      I have lots of plump nerine buds too, it’ s so exciting.

  7. Flighty says:

    Lovely post and pictures. The word miffy caught my eye and made me smile. I really like asters. My blue one has just started flowering but sadly I lost the white one as its roots rotted in waterlogged ground earlier in the year.
    I had some nerine bowdenii which I gave to a friend as they never did well on the plot. xx

  8. snowbird says:

    What a poignant post, that D. H Lawrence poem is so moving, I can’t imagine what it must be like being aware of one’s own impending death, to write such a poem about it….goodness.
    I love all your asters, but the blues of those Gentians are stunning, especially sino-ornato, simply beautiful.
    I was amazed to find Nerine bowdenii flowering in my back garden when I arrived back from holiday, I had forgotten you sent me it! It’s delightful!!!xxx

  9. Chloris says:

    Thank you for rewriting your lovely comment Dina. The gentians are an unreal colour, I wish I could keep them. I am glad your nerine is flowering, it should clump up over the years.

  10. bittster says:

    The gentian is such an amazing color and I love how the giant flowers just sit on that undersized tuffet of foliage. I’ve taken to just buying plants which I don’t expect to survive, if only because I can. Two alstromerias and a tree fern lead the list right now although I did give in and sent a beautiful crape myrtle south to a better and more realistic home. I thought that was very noble of myself.
    The asters are fantastic, you have such a nice collection and I’m sure it makes autumn a much nicer season. I love the ones with the darker centers.

    • Chloris says:

      I have three tree ferns now. Our winters aren’ t as hard as yours. I hope hay stuffed in their crowns and a nice wooly blanket will get them through. I have just been to a talk and it was suggested that Crape Myrtle , Lagerstroemia might do well against a sheltered south facing wall. So now I am longing to try it.

  11. I see you are truly a fellow asterphile! A magnificent selection!

    • Chloris says:

      I love them. I saw another lovely one yesterday which is going on my wishlist. Aster ‘Porzellan’. Although it is a novi- belgii, I didn’ t have a trace of mildew.

  12. What a splendid treat, you have a lovely collection of asters – though I wish they hadn’t changed the name! Your pot of sapphire blue gentians is beautiful too.

    • Chloris says:

      I love asters, I wouldn’ t mind the name change so much if they were all Symphiotrichum. But many of them have been assigned to different groups.
      Gentians are hopeless here, but if you treat them as annuals, then you can enjoy them without fretting.

  13. Annette says:

    what a beautiful collection of autumn flowers! it’s amazing to see how Gentiana struggles in gardens when you look at the rather ‘hostile’ regions where they so often grow but that’s probably it, our gardens aren’t hostile enough. Looking at Lady in Black I realize I must look for mine, might have died this summer. Doesn’t like heat and drought one bit. Lots of other asters to enjoy though, I shall stick with the tough ones 😉

    • Chloris says:

      We can’t provide the mists and snow melt that gentians like, here in Suffolk. It’s just too dry.
      I agree asters don’t like it when it’s too dry either. I have been watering this summer, but the ones I didn’t get round to, don’t look so good.

  14. mrsdaffodil says:

    Lovely post. Acceptance is hard for the gardener, but necessary for sanity. I’ve just acquired a Nerine plant and I’m trying to figure out where to place it. I’ve planted bulbs in the past and they’ve survived but not flowered. Sunny and sheltered, but not too dry?

  15. Chloris says:

    Some people, of course, are disciplined and content with a restricted palette. I want to grow everything, including plants which are quite unsuited to my soil and climate. It is a form of madness.

  16. rusty duck says:

    I must get more asters. They add so much colour to the Autumn garden, how have I managed without them for so long? You have set me on a mission Chloris. I may have to go up to Rosemoor. Oh dear…

    • Chloris says:

      If you get some asters and indeed you must, every girl needs her asters, do look out for Little Carlow, it is stunning and in a year or two makes a wonderful show that doesn’ t need staking.

  17. pbmgarden says:

    The intense blue of the Gentians is worth enjoying for the moment. Looking forward to more of your nerines.

  18. Chloris says:

    There is no blue quite like that of the gorgeous gentians. If I could only grow them, I would fill my garden with them. My nerines are full of plump buds, I am very excited as they are starting to open.

  19. Are these all yours Chloris? Stunning. Those gentians are so striking.

  20. Cathy says:

    What a curious (and dark) poem by Lawrence – never come across that before – but what an effect it has had on you: you have a lovely pot of gentians. I remember seeing them growing well in the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh at the end of Oct a couple of years ago. I had more or less dedided not to bother with ‘asters’ but you can be very persuasive and I think I shall at least try again with Little Carlow – your selection look most fetching 🙂

    • Chloris says:

      If you only have one, then choose Little Carlow. But why stop at one? They bring so much colour to the garden, bees love them and they are good for picking. What’ s not to like?

      • Cathy says:

        Some do look tall and scraggy though – don’t fancy them much. My plant buying list for 2017 is getting longer by the day…

  21. homeslip says:

    I’m often tempted by tiny pots of gentians at Wisley. Next time I will succumb and just enjoy them indoors. Thank you Chloris for sharing your philosophy. I saw some amazing stands of asters at West Dean Garden yesterday (amongst other beauties). I bought my one and only aster (novi-Belgii) at Sissinghurst about 25 years ago and tried so hard to love it despite the mildew. But it’s gone now and next year I will try and squeeze in a non-mildew variety.

  22. Chloris says:

    If you only buy one more, then I would suggest Little Carlow, it is stunning, bees love it and it doesn’t need staking.

  23. Julie says:

    Hi Chloris – what a lot of lovely autumn beauties you have shared!! I do think these late flowers are the most precious of the year and I am already looking forward to the winter flowers that in so many ways are my favourites of the year. I am sorry that our planned plant shopping didn’t happen – this has been a funny old year for me with lots of hiccups that have got in the way of blogging, garden visiting and plant shopping generally. Right now my mother is very ill so I have stopped both blogging and gardening to care for her – there is little time or enthusiasm left for either activity right now. Hopefully things will improve, or at least settle into a new routine and I do hope we can revisit our plans in the spring. Julie xx

  24. Chloris says:

    Oh Julie, I am so sorry to hear that, what a difficult time for you. I hope things will improve and that next year you will be able to enjoy your garden again. Perhaps we will be able to enjoy a jaunt next spring.

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