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Late-Blooming Flowers for Michaelmas

Aster amellus

Aster × frikartii 'Moench' flowers in the Judy Black Garden in Cuxa Cloister. Photo by the author

As we approach the beginning of autumn, the palette of the Judy Black Garden in Cuxa Cloister is rich in silvers, greens, pinks, and whites. The eye catches shades of purple dotted among these colors. One of these purple delights is the Aster × frikartii 'Moench' (or 'Monch') planted in the two northern beds. This hybrid was developed by Swiss plantsman Carl Frikart, who combined the European Aster amellus with the Himalayan Aster thomasii to create a long-blooming, two-to-three-foot-tall, mounded perennial. Petal colors range from a violet blue to a washed-out lavender, surrounding a striking yellow center disk. We purposefully chose this modern cultivar for its late-season bloom, which helps to extend the season in Cuxa Cloister, The Met Cloisters' ornamental garden.

Purple flowers known as Aster amellus

Detail of an Aster × frikartii 'Moench' flower in the Judy Black Garden in Cuxa Cloister. Photo by the author

Early autumn is a wonderful time to observe the Judy Black Garden's vibrant flowering displays as compared to the lush greens in the medieval Bonnefont herb garden, which is planted with European straight species.

Portrait of Saint Michael by Master of Belmonte

Left: Master of Belmonte (Spanish, active ca. 1460–90). Saint Michael, ca. 1450–1500. Tempera and oil on wood, 75 1/2 x 47 in. (217.2 x 119.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1955 (55.120.2)

In September, the European medieval landscape would have resembled our subdued Bonnefont garden. However, some plants, such as the Michaelmas daisy (Aster amellus), did have a late-summer bloom, which would have been an uplifting sight as the character of the days became increasingly cool and dark.

In England and other areas of Europe, September 29 is the feast day of Saint Michael, or Michaelmas Day. Aster amellus and other perennials in the Aster and Syphonytrichums families honor this day with their common name, Michaelmas daisy. Saint Michael is revered as the one who protects us from things wicked and dark. Just as Saint Michael symbolizes light and hope, so too does the Michaelmas daisy, which brightened the medieval landscape as the autumn equinox approached. At this time of year, merchants, bankers, and tradesmen would have been hastily working to close unfinished business of the past year and to establish new contract agreements; and the agrarian would have been completing much of the spring to fall work: harvesting grains, picking grapes, or fattening livestock.

By mid-October, glass panels will enclose the arcades surrounding the Judy Black Garden, transforming it into our winter conservatory. These are the last days for visitors to savor a walk through the garden within the Cuxa Cloister. With the gentle light of autumn falling upon the senescent foliage and fall flowers, it is a stunning season to enjoy all of the gardens at The Met Cloisters.

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