GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Echinacea

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Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinglow' at the Lurie Garden in Chicago, IL

This winter I finalized a 10,000 square foot design for clients who reside in a rural setting in central Illinois. Their recently renovated Prairie Style home has lovely views of nearby timber and a vast meadow. The site and home lend themselves to a more naturalistic garden.

Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) are in abundance in the design. As I’ve been submitting plant orders for the upcoming installation, they seemed an appropriate choice for May’s GGW Plant Pick of The Month.

Although there are nine species of coneflower, all native to central or eastern North America, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is the most commonly sold species at nurseries. Numerous cultivars have been developed for flower size and color, and plant size.

Several of my favorite Echinacea purpurea cultivars include:  

  • ‘Coconut Lime’ is the first double-flowered white coneflower. This cultivar has a relatively compact habit, only 24-30″ tall, with 20+ blooms per plant. It bloomed all summer from June-early September. ‘Coconut Lime’ pairs well with Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis).Echinacea purpurea 'Coconut Lime' with Perovskia atriplicifolia (background)
  • ‘Kim’s Knee High’ is the first dwarf purple coneflower, only 24″ tall with strongly reflexed pink petals. I enjoy ‘Kim’s Knee High’ adjacent to meadow sage (Salvia ‘May Night’), thousand flowered aster (Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta), thread-leaf bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), catmint (Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’).
  • ‘Ruby Giant’ has sturdy stems with multiple branches sporting 5-7″ wide flowers. The 30-36″ tall plants bloom from late June to frost. Perfect paired with switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale).
  • I am anxious to trial Arie Blom’s latest introduction, ‘Hot Papaya’. Flowers are typically uniform in color and said not to fade. Blooms appear from June-August on 30″ tall plants.

    Echinacea purpurea 'Hot Papaya' (Image courtesy of Coneflower.com)

    (Image courtesy of Coneflower.com)

Two other species of Echinacea I use on occasion are the pale purple coneflower (E. pallida) and  the yellow coneflower (E. paradoxa). Both species combine particularly well with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).

Echinacea paradoxa (Image courtesy of Heronswood)

Echinacea paradoxa (Image courtesy of Heronswood)

Concerning cultural requirements, coneflowers are tolerant of most growing conditions but prefer well drained soil and full sun. Once established they are drought tolerant.

Do you have a favorite Echinacea purpurea cultivar or successful planting combinations including coneflowers you’d like to share? If so, simply post your comments below and link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of coneflowers and comments about your experiences working with the plant.

About Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.

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7 Responses to GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Echinacea

  1. linda May 15, 2009 at 8:11 am #

    Wow – 10,000 square feet – that’s a nice-sized garden.

    Not surprisingly, I haven’t had much success with a few experimental coneflower cultivars in my mostly-shady garden. The species seems to like it here just fine though. Wish I could grow some of those others with their pretty colors and forms. Ruby Giant is a survivor here too, although it’s been very slow to establish and doesn’t bloom as well as I’d like.

    Linda. Thanks for sharing your experience with coneflowers. ‘Ruby Giant’ is a pretty stunning cultivar!

    -AW

  2. Shady Gardener May 15, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    It’s pretty crazy when Echinacea begins to somewhat resemble Rudbeckia! There are some fun new varieties, but I’m still a fan of the originals. :-)

    Thanks for your comments Shady. I agree completely!

    -AW

  3. Shawn May 17, 2009 at 5:54 pm #

    Adam- Echinacea are a favorite perennial in my yard. I have E. ‘Magnus’ and ‘White Swan’ that have done well. I tried two of thg Big Sky Hybrids and lost one because it only got partial sun. The second has never really thrived, but since relocating it to a sunnier location is making quite a comeback. Once established, these are stalwart performers, especially in our hot Pacific Northwest summers.

    Hi Shawn. Thanks for your comments and post on coneflowers. I agree, Terra Nova’s Mac N Cheese and Tomato Soup look like colorful additions to their lineup.

    -AW

  4. Eva May 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    I’ve really become a fan of coneflowers recently. My original old purple ones came from pass along seed, but I’ve bought 5 of the new hybrids in the last couple of days, including harvest moon and double delight. I can’t wait to see how they do in my sunny garden. I think my favorite is coconut lime.

    I have ‘Harvest Moon’ as well. Lovely with Geranium ‘Rozanne’!

    -Adam

  5. Henrietta May 18, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    I am a fan of the orginal coneflowers but have planted seed of the white ones and am hoping that the seed will sprout. I have a flower bed with coneflowers and day lilies I like the orange and purple combination.

    Hi Henrietta. Thank you for sharing!

    -AW

  6. Lynn May 18, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    I love them, too. Thanks for the companion recommendations. Our garden is pretty tiny, but here is a post showing them with lots of other flowers and some plant portraits last August bloom day. I am trying E. pallida from seed this year and will plant with Pannicum ‘Heavy Metal’.

    Lynne. Thanks for sharing your great photos! I see several of my favorite plants in your garden, including Echinacea. I like your description of the Allium seedheads . . . ‘hanging around like frozen fireworks’.

    -Adam

  7. Sprouts, Shoots, and Sunshine May 21, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Just picked up 3 ‘Coconut Lime’ and stealing your combination idea! I love how it looks planted next to peroskia!