These colourful daisy-like flowers spill out beautifully over walls, steps and paths after self-sowing, says Miranda Kimberley.

E. glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’ - image: Floramedia
E. glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’ - image: Floramedia

Erigeron is a large genus, within the daisy family, Asteraceae. Its flagship species is E. karvinskianus Award of Garden Merit (AGM), a fantastic plant that starts off diminutively but within a few years self-sows into nooks and crannies, spilling out beautifully over walls and paths.

Like karvinskianus, many of the Erigeron are low-growing and suit rock gardens. The tallest ones are at most 80cm high and resemble a small Michaelmas daisy. They work well in an herbaceous border.

Erigeron can be annual, biennial or perennial and produce single or semi-double flowers in the spring or summer. As a daisy the flower is made of ray and disc florets. The ray florets are highly colourful, in shades including yellow, orange, violet and lilac. Because of this Erigeron is sometimes confused with the closely related genera Aster. The flowers always have yellow centres, made up of the disc florets.

The most widely grown is the above-mentioned E. karvinskianus AGM, a lovely species that produces small daisy flowers over a long period of time. They open white and then take on pinky/purple tinges, producing a fantastic delicate effect. They are perfect for growing over a low wall or into the cracks of stone steps or a rockery. They self-seed perfectly and create low mounds.

E. speciosus is the species that was commonly grown in cottage gardens in the past. It has purple, narrow-petalled flowers, which tend to droop. Hybrids bred from this species became very popular because they produced larger, brighter flowers that held up their heads. These varieties are all between 30cm and 80cm tall and flower between June and August. Good varieties include the pink ‘Foersters Liebling’ AGM and the violet ‘Darkest of All’.

They are easy-to-grow plants and can be planted in any well-drained garden soil. They like a position in sun or light shade. The taller varieties may need staking but there are many low-growing types that can be left to their own devices. Deadhead regularly to prolong flowering. Cut down spent stems in the autumn and divide plants if necessary in the spring.

What the specialists say

Peter Chapman, managing director, Perryhill Nurseries, East Sussex

"The most popular type that we sell is E. karvinskianus, often known as ‘Profusion’ in the trade. It self-seeds into cracks and crevices, giving a lovely effect around steps and walls, and we also sell quite a number for hanging baskets, as it flowers over a very long period.

"The popularity of the larger-flowered varieties has waned over the past few years — I’m not sure why. But we do still sell a small amount of ‘Azurfee’ and ‘Rosa Jewel’, which can be grown from seed.

"There are other named forms such as ‘Quakeress’, ‘Dunkelste Aller’ and ‘Schwarzes Meer’, which are useful in a well-drained sunny border. I have found them short-lived on my heavy soil. They can be used as cut flowers. E. glaucus is evergreen and a useful coastal plant that is tolerant even of sea spray. A customer grows it and said so."

In practice

Robert Player, proprietor, Garden Associates, central London/Hertfordshire

"The mantra ‘fluffy not scruffy’ applies to a lot of my gardens and E. karvinskianus is the plant to achieve just that. Even the most grinchy garden observer does not dispute this little daisy’s simple, casual and natural beauty. The plant with its Bellis-like flower self-seeds into any loose mortar, dry wall or paving, but somehow nobody objects. It’s possibly unique in the list of invasive but very welcome plants.

"This Mexican/North American daisy-like flower is just everybody’s friend. Whilst judging in Guernsey recently, the capital town St Peter Port claims this tiny plant as its own. The St Peter Port daisy runs riot through the ancient stone walls of the town and port with the most beautiful effect. It’s quite simply breathtaking. The locals rightly adore it and I’m sure most believe it’s indigenous to Guernsey, certainly not Mexico.

"From May to November the multitude of daisy-like flowers just keep on coming — no need to deadhead, they are unstoppable. White rays at first then maturing to a pinky mauve, mauve being the colour of most other Erigeron. It is a perennial so we just cut it back to its crown after seeding in spring and off it goes again.

"The common name for an Erigeron is ‘fleabane’. It was thought that it killed or repelled fleas and lice, so pillows and mattresses were stuffed with the dried plant, with I imagine limited success. If, however, you want your garden to be up to scratch, then don’t hop it down to the nursery but sow seeds in early spring, which is much cheaper and success is assured."

Species and varieties

E. annuus is a tall, annual species that produces lovely tall heads of pale-lilac/white daisies between June and October. Height: 85cm.

E. aurantiacus is a hardy perennial that forms mats or clumps of velvety leaves and produces bright-orange flowers with yellow centres on leafy stems. Height and spread: 30cm.
E. aureus ‘Canary Bird’ AGM (H4) is a perennial with compact clumps of spoon-shaped hairy leaves. It produces pale-lemon daisies for months. Height: 12cm.

E. ‘Dominator’ is a tall and self-supporting variety that produces strongly-coloured violet/purple daisy flowers between June and July as well as September and November. Height: 65cm.

E. ‘Dunkelste Aller’ (syn.
E. ‘Darkest of All’) is a lovely form with deep-violet, yellow-centred, semi-double daisy flowers atop erect stems. An herbaceous perennial with oval grey/green leaves. Height: 40cm. Spread: 1m.

E. ‘Foersters Liebling’ AGM produces lovely semi-double, soft-pink flowers between May
and August. Height: 45cm.

E. ‘Four Winds’ is a prostrate form that produces yellow-centred, lilac-pink flowers in midsummer. Height: 15-25cm.

E. glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’, or the beach erigeron, is a low-growing, spreading perennial that is a
familiar sight around the coasts of southern Britain, thriving in salty air. They form mats of interesting glaucous, evergreen foliage and produce lavender/pink, semi-double daisy-like flowers, with yellow discs at their centre, throughout the summer months. Height: 30cm. Spread: 45cm.

E. karvinskianus AGM (H4) is probably the most popular variety — a low-growing perennial that self-sows into nooks and crannies of steps, paths and walls, producing a lovely softening effect. It forms wide mats of narrow, hairy leaves and produces masses of daisy flowers, which start white and soon turn pinkish/purple. Very long flowering — up to nine months — so a fantastically useful plant. Height: 30cm. Spread: 1m.

E. ‘Schwarzes Meer’ is currently the darkest Erigeron available, a lovely semi-double, deep-violet flower, surpassing the now unfortunately named E. ‘Darkest of All’. It flowers between June and August. Height: 40cm.

E. ‘White Quakeress’ is a nice, vigorous, medium-height variety with white flowers produced from June until at least August, if not longer, that fade to a very pale grey/pink. Height: 40cm.

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