The plant we have known for a long time as Aster ‘Little Carlow’ is a beautiful thing. It is an upright perennial with dark green leaves up to about 1m high. It produces loose panicles of flower heads, each 2cm across with a yellow centre darkening with age. How would you describe the colour? Most descriptions say violet-blue, but Christopher Lloyd is a little more specific – ” ‘Little Carlow’ is as blue a shade of lavender as you will find in an aster.”

The ideal growing situation is a moderately fertile, moist soil in partial shade but it will tolerate well-drained soil in full sun. Depending on growing conditions, it may need staking. It received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

So far, so good. But there is a problem, isn’t there? It’s had a change of name and we don’t much care for the new one. Aster means star and is a pretty name but symphyotrichum is unknown, ugly and unpronounceable! We understand that sometimes names must change and, in this case, various studies have provided new information, which has resulted in a deal of shifting and renaming but now reflects a more realistic classification. So, how can we learn to live with the new name? I wondered if finding out what it means might help.

Symphyotrichum comes from the Greek symphyo, meaning to grow together (another source says to come together – any Greek scholars out there?) and trichum from the Greek thrix, trichos, meaning hair.
One source says this name is in possible reference to the flower anthers and another suggests it refers to the hair-like flowers. I don’t know whether either of these is correct or how to find out – if anyone knows where to go for authentic information, do please let me know. But, for our purposes, I’m going with the flower option! The flower head is made up of central disc florets surrounded by outer ray florets. These ray florets have coloured ligules, which are very fine and could be described as hair-like and they certainly grow together. I think that sounds quite reasonable.

It is for these coloured flowers that we grow the plant so might this give us a reason to like the new name? Have I convinced you yet? Try rolling your tongue over the name a few times whilst thinking about the lovely flowers. Any good?

No matter what it’s called our members like ‘Little Carlow’ a lot and have placed it at Number 5 in our Top 30.

HPS Kent Top 30. What’s it all about?