In the Garden:
Vibrant "Sunset" echinacea, one of the new Big Sky series, is headed for my garden this spring.
Coneflowers That Will Turn Your Head
There are few perennials as dependable as coneflowers (Echinacea), and for years I've relied on the traditional pink and white varieties to flower for weeks on end without a bit of attention from me, and then continue to hold their spiky seed heads for the birds throughout the winter. I confess that I've taken them for granted. But no more. Suddenly coneflowers are where the action is. Plant breeders have been spicing things up in the past few years, creating new colors and shapes -- even double-decker flowers -- that have zoomed to the top of my must-have list. Here's a sampling of what you can expect to see on the Echinacea runway this spring.
What's New Under the Sun
The Meadowbright series, introduced by Jim Ault at the Chicago Botanic Garden, have strongly reflexed petals, and the fragrant flowers come in fruity colors, such as 'Orange Meadowbright' with tangerine orange petals and a rust-colored central cone; and 'Mango Meadowbright' with mango yellow petals and a golden orange cone. The petals are on the narrow side, lending a distinctive look. These plants grow 30 to 36 inches tall.
Another series boasts richly colored flowers in shades evocative of sunrise and sunset. Big Sky Echinaceas, bred by Richard Saul of Itsaul Plants in Atlanta, include lovelies such as the butter-yellow 'Sunrise'; 'Sunset', with coral-orange petals and a rust-colored cone; and 'Sundown', with golden orange petals and a russet cone. The petals (technically called the ray flowers) are more crowded around the cone than those in the Meadowbright series so they look fuller. 'Sunrise' and 'Sundown' grow 30 to 36 inches tall, while the shorter 'Sunset' grows 24 to 30 inches.
For a deep golden yellow, try Echinacea purpurea 'Harvest Moon', a 2-foot-tall, stocky variety that flowers with abundance. If you like a ruffled look, 'Fancy Frill' can oblige with layers of pink petals with somewhat shaggy edges around a deep red cone. Very striking! Even larger flowers await you -- up to 7 inches across -- with 'Ruby Giant', and the petals are more upturned than reflexed, and very fragrant.
Echinacea purpurea 'Fatal Attraction' looks like a daisy, with its upturned flowers of brilliant fuchsia and less pronounced cone. Diminutive in size -- growing only 2 feet tall on black stems -- this is one to grow in containers or at least within easy viewing of your outdoor sitting area.
The most unique of the newer introductions is Echinacea purpurea'Doubledecker'. It has two tiers of petals: one that emerges from the base of the cone and another that sits on top and resembles a pink butterfly come to rest.
Echinacea will be happy in any well-drained soil -- even dry soil that lacks abundant organic matter -- as long as they have enough sun. The plants flower from June till frost, and withstand whatever our cold winters dish out. I've never had any problem with insects or disease, but I have found that the plants are quite appealing to deer, although after a light tasting the plants tend to bounce back bushier than before.
All in all, there's more to recommend these dependable beauties than ever before, so invite some over this summer.
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