Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Are the new coneflowers just pretty faces?

When you specialize in one particular plant, it’s easy to fall into a gardening rut.

While living in Maryland, I focused on roses and companion plants that looked good with roses. I wasn’t very interested in experimenting with anything new.
Now that I’m starting over with a garden in the mountains of North Carolina, I see I’ve been missing out on some really interesting perennials. I inherited a few daylilies and am just beginning to appreciate their beauty and usefulness.
I was also intrigued when a coneflower popped up in an area where I’d sown wildflower seeds last summer. It was just an old fashioned Echinacea purpurea but it looked quite elegant amid a group of oxeye daisies.

I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this appealing flower before.
The humble Echinacea has some fancy new cousins
Hardy, attractive, and easy to grow, these popular American wildflowers have long been a staple of the perennial border both here and in Europe.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, a number of enterprising plant breeders began making crosses between several varieties of native coneflowers in an attempt to make a good thing even better.

Harvest Moon

The result is a dizzying array of new hybrids in a rainbow of delicious colors, along with a wide choice of flower forms (including pom-poms and doubles) and sizes from midget to statuesque.
Keeping up with all these new and unusual coneflowers is about as difficult as figuring out which of a multitude of rose introductions to try. The number of choices and names boggle the mind.
Milk Shake

Should I get a Milkshake and Tomato Soup? Or a Marmalade and Merlot?
And once I decide on which of the new beauties to try, should I assume it will be as easy-care as the old standby?
The coneflower controversy
The traditional purple coneflower has been a Top 10 perennial for decades. It self-seeds so even when the original plant is just a memory, true seedlings will have taken its place.
Unfortunately, many of the new introductions don’t perform as dependably in the garden.
Raspberry Truffle

Many seem to disappear after a year or so, and others never bloom. Some fade quickly in the heat. A number of varieties don’t set seed and others produce strange seedlings.
It’s a disappointing result after a great deal of hype and high expectations.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the success rate for certain new coneflowers may depend on the region where they are grown.

Jeff Dinslage of Nature Hills Nursery reports that Tomato Soup has been a star in his Nebraska yard for several years despite being placed in the worst spot in the garden. Kim’s Knee Hi is another variety that does well in the heartland.
Kim's Knee Hi
Fatal Attraction and Fragrant Angel don’t mind the heat and clay soils of the mid-Atlantic according to a three-year study done by the nonprofit Mount Cuba Center in northern Delaware.
And compact Elton Knight has done well enough in Britain to be given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
White Swan
I don’t know if my White Swan and Ruby Star will be winners here in the North Carolina mountains, but I will certainly report if either one rates a thumbs-up.
I hope to hear more about Echinacea experiences in other areas of the country.

The explosion of these unique and enticing plants is exciting news for gardeners.

But before we all go coneflower crazy, we need to separate the dazzlers from the duds.

Hot Paprika


Skeeter said...

Other then the Black Eyed Susan type, they are all new to me. I added two different ones to my GA gardens this past June. Shall see how they fair my hot, humid sandy, clay conditions....

Lynn Hunt said...

Skeeter, I will look forward to hearing how your two new ones do. I finally had one coneflower I planted last year come back. The first survivor ever! I was surprised, especially after the winter we had.

Hoehoegrow said...

Lots of exciting new varieties, but you are right to query whether they will all pass the test of time, and still be around in 5 years ! Some new varieties are over-hyped and over- marketed, others are genuinely

Lynn Hunt said...

Jane, I'm with you taking a wait and see approach. Wish I'd saved the tag from the lonely coneflower that returned this year! I'd get one or two more! Thanks so much for stopping by.

Kylee Baumle said...

I've grown many different ones in my NW Ohio garden and some were duds, but many have done very well. I've had 'White Swan' for about eight years and it's fabulous. 'Hot Papaya' has really performed well and 'Supreme Flamingo' is one of my more recent favorites. We had the winter from hell this past year and these didn't bat an eye at it. 'Hope' came through with flying colors too, as did 'Coconut Lime'. 'Supreme Canteloupe' is a newer one that scoffed at our winter as well. My biggest problem with them is Aster Yellows. I just can't seem to avoid it. :-(

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Kylee, so glad to hear you've had success with some of the newer varieties, especially after such a tough winter. My White Swan did not come back but it was so lovely, I may try it again. Have not seen Supreme Flamingo but will try to find one next time I'm at the "big" garden center. If it gets the Kylee recommendation, it must be a good one!

Sunil Patel said...

Hi Lynn, I think they've done the usual and over-bred them, like they do with many other plants (hostas, I'm looking at you). The new varieties such as Milk Shake and Hot Paprika have lost the essential qualities that make coneflowers attractive in the first place. When it comes to new hybrids, I tread very carefully and usually always stick to the mantra of KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Lynn Hunt said...

Sunil, I think you have it exactly right. The two coneflowers that survived the winter were the ones that resemble the old fashioned varieties except they have deep yellow petals. Very pretty (and the return was a pleasant surprise!)

Julie said...

The old fashioned, plain old purple coneflower is (hands down) my favorite flower. It is most beautiful when planted in large patches. And oh how the butterflies love them!

Lynn Hunt said...

Julie, the hummers love them as well! Let's face it, the original is still the greatest!

Dawn said...

Lynn, it's great to read your thoughts on coneflowers. I've been so tempted to add several of the newer varieties to my Midwest garden. I just love my purple coneflowers and tall, yellow 'Herbstsonne' coneflowers. This is my first visit to your blog. It's wonderful! ♡

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Dawn, I'm so delighted you enjoyed the posting and blog! If you read Kylee's comment she has had good luck with some of the newer varieties like White Swan. I saw it growing at the Biltmore Estste on Monday so it must be fairly hardy even though mine didn't make it. If I ever find the tag for the two that came back in my garden I'll be sure to post the name. Hope you visit again soon!

Casa Mariposa said...

Most of the new hybrids are overpriced duds. I have Kim's Knee High and they're doing well along with a white one I can't remember the name of. But most of mine are the original species. They're the pollinators favorite, anyway. :)

Lynn Hunt said...

Hi Casa Mariposa, It sounds like you and I are in the same boat. Maybe I'll try Kim's Knee Hi since it has worked for others. I think you are right about the "oldies but goodies." They look wonderful and both bees and hummers love them.

Hanna Daniels said...

They are not old fashion, they are classic! ;)))) I enjoy all the varieties and all the pictures you've shared!

Lynn Hunt said...

You are right Hanna, they are classics! A couple of my newer ones did come back after I wrote this article. Here's hoping I'll get them two years in a row! Thanks so much for your comment and for stopping by!

Post a Comment