Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chasmanthium latifolium 'River Mist'

Northern Sea Oats has long been one of my favorite grasses. It's incredibly adaptable, tolerating full sun to shade and well drained to heavy soil. It can grow nearly anywhere! In sun it stands 2-3' tall with bright green leaves. In the shade it grows 3-4' tall and tends towards darker foliage. In the fall it gets beautiful flattened spikelet seedheads that hold up into February. It can be a prolific self-seeder, but this has only been a problem for me in well-drained soils.

This wonderful grass has recently been made even better with the introduction of 'River Mist' from ItSaul plants in Georgia. This new variety has beautiful white variegation and white seedheads. I've been amazed by the incredible growth rate of 'River Mist', I expected it to be much slower considering how much white area the leaf contains. It also seems to have darker foliage, even in the sun which may account for the good growth rate. This variety will certainly brighten up a spot in a partially shaded garden, or provide contrast with dark-leaved plants in the border or container. FANTASTIC!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coneflowers! (part 3)

Echinacea hybrids
There have been many hybrid Echinacea in the past ten years. They generally involve crosses of E. purpurea, E. pallida, E. tennesseensis, and E. paradoxa. The biggest mistake gardeners make with the hybrid coneflowers is to treat them like Purple Coneflowers. Most of the hybrids will not tolerate heavy clay soil or partial shade the way Purple Coneflower does, and will usually not make it through the first winter if planted in heavy soil, even in zones 7 or 8. It is extremely important to amend the soil with compost or other organic matter for these varieties to thrive. Again, the most important statement in this post: THESE ARE NOT PURPLE CONEFLOWERS!
The Chicago Botanic Garden released the first orange hybrid coneflower ‘Art’s Pride’ which was sold under the trademarked name Orange Meadowbrite. This plant is a cross of E. purpurea ‘Alba’ and E. paradoxa. It is similar in every way to Yellow Coneflower, except for its rich orange flowers. ‘CBG Cone3’ was sold under the trademarked name Mango Meadowbrite and is an amber mutation of ‘Art’s Pride’. Both of these plants are getting harder to find as most growers have abandoned them for newer hybrids with better non-floppy habit and richer color.
‘CBG Cone2’ is sold under the trademarked name Pixie Meadowbrite and is in my opinion the best dwarf coneflower currently available. It is a complex cross of E. tennesseensis x E. purpurea and E. angustifolia x E. tennesseensis. This plant blooms like mad with masses of small pinkish-lavender flowers. It only grows to 20” tall in my garden. It is fairly adaptable and can grow in heavy soil, but does appreciate good drainage. My dog tramples this thing, and it still grows in compacted clay-loam.
The Big Sky series of coneflowers are hybridized by the Saul brothers in Georgia. All are hardy to zone 5 (possibly 4) and require well drained soil.
‘Sunrise’ was the first release and is the result of crossing E. purpurea ‘White Swan’ with a seedling of E. purpurea x E. paradoxa. ‘Sunrise’ has soft yellow flowers that fade to near white on sturdy stems to 3’ tall.
‘Sunset’ was the second release and had orange petals that were usually rolled into a quill. This plant is no longer widely grown.
‘Twilight’ is the third and probably my favorite of the series for its unusual rose-colored flowers and compact habit. It is not a vigorous grower and takes awhile to look good. It has never been widely grown.
‘Evan Saul’ is sold as Sundown and has rich orange flowers that are not quilled. This variety replaced ‘Sunset’ and was a much better performer. Flowers are profuse, but small.
‘Matthew Saul’ is sold as Harvest Moon and has the same amber color as Mango Meadowbrite but a sturdier and more compact habit. It looks fantastic in combination with Rosa 'Radrazz' (Knockout) and similarly colored flowers.
‘Katie Saul’ sold as Summer Sky is a bicolor with dark rose color around the cone lightening to peach at the tips of the petals. Makes an impressive clump, and probably has the largest flowers of the series.
‘After Midnight’ has dark purple flowers, a black cone, dark stems, and a compact habit. However it has the same need for well drained soils as the rest and in my garden the color isn’t any darker than ‘Vintage Wine’ or ‘Fatal Attraction’ which are much better growers.

Terra Nova has put out a huge number of Echinacea hybrids. All of them have sturdy, well-branched stems and do well in well-drained soils. They will not thrive in heavy soils and likely will not over-winter even in warmer zones. They are hardy to zone 5, likely even zone 4. Most are brand new this year, and I'm going off of what I'm told and what I read. I will have all of them this season, and will try to update this in fall and possibly next spring/summer with overwintering data.
‘Tiki Torch’ is a fantastic rich orange with a large cone. This plant is doing fairly well in zones 4 and 5 WI, as long as it has well-drained soil. Overwintered in my clay-loam this season now that it's out of dog reach.
‘Mac n’ Cheese’ is a great dark yellow color that matches its name. This variety is less vigorous than the others, and probably is much more picky about well drained soil. An improvement on this variety is 'Now Cheesier'; which is slightly darker and more vigorous.
‘Tomato Soup’ is a fantastic red and grows similar to ‘Tiki Torch’. Overwintered in the same garden as 'Tiki Torch'
‘Flamethrower’ is a bicolor variety with a dark orange center lightening towards the tips of the petals.
‘Firebird’ is a great red-orange variety with drooping petals and a good habit. I think this has E. pallida in its background, but I'm not 100% sure. I try to find out later in the season.
‘Hot Lava’ is a red-orange variety with horizontally held petals. Similar to ‘Tomato Soup’
‘Maui Sunshine’ is a dark lemon-yellow with horizontally held petals on well branched stems.
‘Tangerine Dream’ is a bright orange similar to ‘Tiki Torch’ but with more horizontally held petals.
‘Coral Reef’ is a double coral-orange with huge flowers.
'Secret Passion' is a dwarf variety with double flowers. I'm not sure of the background on this and am placing it in the hybrids category. I'm very interested to see this one. If it has the size and blooming traits of Pixie Meadowbrite or 'Mistral' and double flowers like 'Pink Double Delight' I'll be totally impressed.

‘Hot Papaya’ is the first double orange to be released to the US, but hasn’t been available in large numbers. This plant came from Arie Bloom of the Netherlands. Other colors will be available in 2011, Arie has been busy. :)

'Summer Sun' is a new variety bred by Kees van de Aardwegh being released by Walter's Gardens. It's a 40" tall variety with sturdy branched scapes and flowers that start out orange-red and lighten to golden-orange.

'Hot Summer' was bred by Marco Van Noort and is being released through the Novalis 'Plants that Work' program. This one starts out Golden and darkens to red-orange. 36" tall with branched scapes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Coneflowers! (Part 2)

Echinacea purpurea
Purple Coneflower is the easiest to grow species and the most readily available for gardening. It is adaptable to a wide range of conditions, including heavy clay soil and partial shade. For Purple Coneflower to really thrive, I recommend amending heavy soil with compost to improve drainage. This will help it to establish quickly and you will have fewer problems with crown rot in a wet spring.

The variety ‘Magnus’ was named the Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998. Since then, many varieties have been developed for larger flowers, sturdier stems, larger or smaller plant habits, and better color. Some of my favorites include ‘Merlot’ and ‘Ruby Giant’ for their huge flowers; ‘Vintage Wine’ for its more compact habit and rich dark flowers; and ‘Mistral’ for its dwarf habit and huge number of blooms it produces.

There are a few white varieties and ‘Fragrant Angel’ is probably the best for flower size and purity of color. ‘Jade’ is purported to have green central cones, but growing side by side with ‘White Swan’ I see no difference. ‘Little Angel’ is a new dwarf white with profuse flowers and a pretty good growth rate.

Purple Coneflower also comes in some pretty bizarre double forms. ‘Razzmatazz’ was the first, but is no longer widely grown because of its weak stems. ‘Pink Double Delight’ is a vast improvement and has huge flowers and strong stems. ‘Pink Poodle’ is a new form with large Zinnia-like flowers. The petals come out like a normal coneflower, and slowly they build up on the cone to be fully double. There are also double white coneflowers, and ‘Coconut Lime’ and ‘Milkshake’ seem to be the best so far. From what I’ve seen of ‘Meringue’, it is pretty good as well, but not different enough from ‘Coconut Lime’ to convince me to have both.

Probably the most bizarre varieties are ‘Green Envy’ and ‘Green Jewel’. The petals of ‘Green Envy’ start out green and develop pink centers that elongate as time goes on to be most pink flowers with green tips. The only downside to this plant is it doesn’t have sturdy stems and tends to flop in my garden. ‘Green Jewel’ has chartreuse green flowers on very sturdy stems and a compact 24" habit.

Part 3 covers all of the new hybrids for 2010.