Friday, June 15, 2012

Cone flower crazy

Just the other day I mentioned that cannas are the official harbingers of summer for me. Hot on their heels are echinaceas.

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‘Tiki Torch’ (left), ‘Hot Papaya’ (right)

My love affair with echinaceas began about four years ago when I saw a photo of a new cultivar named ‘Tiki Torch’ in Sunset Magazine. I knew I had to have it, and I spent what at the time was an outrageous sum of $14.95 to mail-order a small plant. It didn’t make it through its first winter, but the next spring I hit the jack pot when Dave’s Garden ran an echinacea coop. I ended up buying a dozen 1½ inch plugs from Terra Nova Nurseries, including several ‘Tiki Torch’, and while they were very small initially, they flowered in their first year and many have come back every year since then.

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‘Tiki Torch’

While echinaceas are very cold hardy, they are pretty particular about drainage. Many a gardener in our area of heavy clay soil has lost prized echinaceas due to winter rot. I count myself lucky because even though not everything I planted has come back—a cultivar named ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’ has proven to be particularly sensitive to poor drainage and has vanished for good from our garden—I still have more than half of my original plugs.

The first echinacea in our garden to bloom was actually an old-fashioned cultivar called ‘Kim’s Knee High’. It’s been blooming for six weeks now and has just hit its peak.

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‘Kim’s Knee High’
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‘Kim’s Knee High’
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‘Kim’s Knee High’, new flower = flat disc
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‘Kim’s Knee High’, older flower = cone shape

The second to bloom was my old love, ‘Tiki Torch’. I still think its deep bright orange color is a standout. Even more remarkable: The color doesn’t fade much in our hot summer sun. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering I ripped out several cultivars I’d planted prior to ‘Tiki Torch’ (several members of ItSaul’s Big Sky series which fade too quickly in our heat).

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‘Tiki Torch’, new flower = flat disc
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‘Tiki Torch’, new flower = flat disc
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‘Tiki Torch’, older flower = cone shape

The third echinacea to bloom is ‘Hot Papaya’. While I don’t typically go for overly frilly plants, this one got me from the start. It’s a Dutch cultivar developed by Arie Blom.

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‘Hot Papaya’ (with Stokesia laevis 'Klaus Jelitto')
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‘Hot Papaya’
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‘Hot Papaya’

Conspicuously absent are ‘Tomato Soup’ and ‘Fragrant Angel’ but there are several specimens that are just now putting up flowers and it’s too early to tell what they are. (The original plant labels have long since been lost). Also coming back is another old-fashioned cultivar called ‘Merlot’.  What I love about this one are the dark purple stems. No other cultivar I had has that.

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‘Tomato Soup’ (photo taken last year)
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‘Fragrant Angel’ (photo taken last year)

Echinaceas are a hot commodity now and new cultivars are introduced every year. I must admit that I haven’t been keeping up-to-date on what’s hot, but after a quick look at the Terra Nova web site I’m ready to start a wish list.

2 comments:

  1. One of my favorite flowering plants too! I go for more of the classics though as opposed to the newer varieties. Not that I don't like them, but they seem so less hardy... I think I lost 75% of the new ones I planted last year. :-(

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    1. I agree, some of them aren't as hardy or tough. And I do like the old-fashioned Echinacea purpurea. In fact, 'Kim's Knee High' is actually a compact selection of Echinacea purpurea and looks very much like the species.

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