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.

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