Erigeron – a doughty daisy

Simplicity and delight in a flower, or a weedy menace? As is so often the case, it depends on your approach to gardening. One thing beyond debate is that, once established, this doughty little daisy will flower its socks off all summer long.

You can’t have missed this little daisy – it’s everywhere at the moment, popping up in rockeries, clinging onto cracks in walls and blossoming out from between paving stones. Erigeron karvinksianus (Mexican fleabane) is a plant whose tenacious qualities will polarise opinion – on the one hand, its pioneering spirit makes it perfect for brightening up otherwise difficult spots, requiring almost no attention once established, whilst on the other, it can be a little alarming to those who like their plants a little more…what shall we say? Biddable?

This same set of characteristics, many of which it shares with that other prolifically reproducing ornamental, Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle), mean that it’s not unheard of to encounter those who think of it as a weed. Nowhere more comically is this dualism played out than on the driveway we share with next-door – my neighbour pulls it out, I encourage it to stay (you can guess which of us joyfully admires the dandelions left to flourish between the paving blocks, but then, you know how I feel about weeds. Or if you don’t, you can read about it here).

Of course, you can buy it, and while I would ordinarily advocate treating yourself to a well-grown specimen of whatever from an expert independent nursery, such lavish ministrations hardly seem appropriate for this plant. Just as well to find a friend with a well established colony and nick a bit. It’s possible, with reasonable amount of care, to establish a young seedling in a crack – if you poke the root in far enough, cover with a little sandy compost and keep well watered while it re-establishes. It’s a bit of a faff though, so you’d be better off waiting for seed heads to form, and then scattering the seeds about where you want it to grow. A little watering from time to time should be all that’s required in addition. That way the nascent plants can be left to winkle their roots into any tiny gaps they discover, without having to suffer the shock and indignity of forced relocation. 

Will it grow anywhere? Well...not quite. The locations where it’s most often found should tell you something about the conditions it prefers, the main requirements being sunshine and sharp drainage – so it won’t be much use for damp, cold soils in full shade. But as it’s pretty unfussy about soil pH or nutrient levels, it’s highly likely there’s at least one spot in your garden that it would be more than happy to beautify, with it’s generous billowing pillows of pink and white daisy flowers right through from June to October. Unless, of course, you’re a bit fussy about the weedy thing.

Where do you stand on Erigeron (please don’t say “on the path!”) – weedy, or gorgeous? Or both? Let me know on twitter, or in the comments below.