Thursday, June 23, 2011

Coneflower cornucopia

When we started the perennial garden in front of our house four years ago, we wanted plants that are tough, can take the heat, are (relatively) drought-tolerant, and come back year after year. American prairie natives—think rudbeckias, liatris, not to mention the many prairie grasses—fit that bill just about perfectly. But my favorite prairie native is the echinacea, typically called “coneflower” although that name is also used for some other plants.

The good old purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) has been gracing gardens for centuries, but in the last 10 years several nurseries (especially Terra Nova Nurseries and ItSaul Plants) have been actively cross-breeding different echinacea species to develop colors and flower traits not seen in nature. Check out this interesting article on echinacea breeding.

The first of these new hybrids I bought was ‘Tiki Torch’ after seeing a blurb in Sunset Magazine. The orange color was almost too vibrant to be real. The plant I got was small and it didn’t really look like much the first year. It was better in the second year, and this year it has finally come into its own. The flowers positively glow and they retain their color beautifully. I also love the tall, strong stems that lift the flowers more than 3 ft. into the air.

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Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’
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Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’
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Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’
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Echinacea ‘Tiki Torch’ with ‘Tomato Soup’ behind it (should be in bloom in another week)

After ‘Tiki Torch’ I bought a few others as liners, the ‘Tomato Soup’ in the photo above being one of them. A few didn’t make it (like ‘Pink Poodle’ but in that case it might be for the best). The survivors are now mature, including ‘Mac 'n Cheese’ in the next photo and ‘Fragrant Angel’ two photos down.

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Echinacea ‘Mac ‘n Cheese’
This one is smaller than expected, not even 2 ft. tall.
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Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’
I don’t really find it fragrant, but it does provide a nice touch of white amidst all the other colors in our perennial bed

Last year I added a rather funky looking echinacea to our collection: ‘Hot Papaya’, developed by Dutch breeder Arie Blom. Supposedly it’s the first-ever double orange/red echinacea. To me it looks a bit like a shaggy dog, but it’s definitely a striking plant on tall, sturdy stems.

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Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’

As much as I like these newer introductions with their flashy colors, my favorite echinacea is, oddly enough, a relatively short Echinacea purpurea hybrid one that’s 12 years old now. ‘Kim’s Knee High’ was developed by Kim Hawks, founder of Niche Gardens, and it combines the essence of the purple coneflower in shorter package (less than 2 ft. tall). Every summer, I fall in love with this cheery plant all over again.

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Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’
next to ‘Black and Blue’ sage (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’)
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Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’
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Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’
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Echinacea purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’, looking beautiful even in the budding stage

Note: Some flowers in the photos above have just started to open up. The petals will get thicker and, in some hybrids, will fold down so the cone sticks up into the air.

3 comments:

  1. Hope you are saving seed! They are beautiful. Have many dandelions down there this year? We are overrun with them!

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  2. Do any of these come true from seed? For some reason I didn't collect seeds from my echinacea hybrids last year.

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  3. I'm fairly sure they do NOT come true from seed. Some of them are fairly complicated hybrids that only be reproduced asexually (love that word). But that is technically illegal since they're all protected by plant patents.

    Becky, we have dandelions in the lawn but not elsewhere. My biggest scourge (as always) is oxalis. Can't get rid of it. Maybe I should try to incorporate it into the planting scheme--you know, make it look like it's meant to be there. LOL.

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