Coneflowers, or echinaceas, have a lot going for them. They are generally tidy, problem-free, upright plants, native to North America, and they are very attractive to butterflies and pollinators. Pictured above is a typical garden-variety echinacea purpurea, an action shot, with a bee about to land on the cone that gives the flowers their common name.
A few years ago, a new wave of echinacea hybrids began making their way into nurseries. This spring, I found fancy coneflowers in quite a few of the garden centres that I browsed though. Many of these new hybrids are still selling at premium prices, but I picked up some of the less extravagently-priced varieties to try out. Now that we’re into mid-July, most of them are putting out a few blooms, so here is a review of the new plants.
Primadonna, above, has pretty, lavendar-pink petals (actually bracts). The flowerheads are reported to average 5 to 6 inches across with long stems standing above sturdy, full plants. Primadonna has been a bit slow to fill out here. I think the location I have it in may not get as much sun as the plants would like. The weather has been a real test for flowers this year, with high temperatures and humidity alternating with heavy downpours of rain. The petals of the first Primadonna blooms have really drooped, perhaps in response to the heavy rain.
I planted three small Ruby Stars last autumn and they came up well this spring. The flowers are being enjoyed by bees, above, and butterflies. Below, a Ruby Star flower sports a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta rubria). The flowerheads of Ruby Star are a bit smaller, but otherwise similar to those of Primadonna.
I have read that Double Decker typically exhibits single blooms in its first year, while in the second year, a second set of petals create a feathery ‘hat” on top of the cone. The Double Decker I have seems to have settled in well, and has indeed produced single blooms. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in hopes that next year it will live up to its name.
Pink Poodle, like Double Decker, is supposed to produce double blooms. It has been trying a bit harder than Double Decker and there are a few odd petals on some of the flowers. Hopefully, it will put out a full array next year.
For a first-year plant, it has bloomed quite well.
Echinacea purpurea “Alba” is a standard white coneflower.
Virgin is a newer variety. The white seems a bit brighter, clearer, and the flowerhead is flatter, with less recurving of the petals.
I’ve been quite pleased with Meringue, which features cool double greenish-white flowers. It is noticable shorter than all the other echinaceas. While they range between two and three feet tall, Meringue is only about 12 inches.
The “Big Sky” series of hybrids offers a number of varieties. I have Sunrise and Sundown. Both have been rather slow to settle in, especially Sundown, which has so far only produced a few small flowers. Sunrise is doing a bit better, and is starting to fill out a bit. The winter may test this pair. When they are fresh, Sundown’s blooms feature an interesting blend of a reddish shades flushed with purple. Sunrise is a very pretty pale yellow.
Tomato Soup is proving to be quite an eye-catcher. It has produced a number of blooms and is bee-approved.
For most interesting colour, the award has to go to Green Jewel. I have been fascinated by how green these flowers really are! I guess some might say “Yes, but why would you want a green flower?” Still, it has intrigued me, and is blooming well. Like Meringue it is a shorter echinacea, just over a foot tall.
My overall award for most unusual new echinacea has to go to Hot Papaya. I’ve read that you either love this one, or hate it. I’m with the lovers. I look forward to seeing how each of these garden additions makes it through the winter and fills out next year.