Vermont Garden Journal: Echinacea

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I’m Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal. Ahh echinacea. This simple native midwestern prairie plant has garnered so much interest from a medical standpoint, that some people overlook its beauty in the perennial garden. Not me, or plant breeders. There are new hybrid varieties of echinacea with imaginative colors and shapes that sometimes barely resemble the original species.

Love them or hate them, there are lots of new coneflowers on the market. The plus side is these new hybrids flower the first year and for longer in the garden. The downside is they aren’t as tough as the species coneflowers. Even the species coneflowers normally only last a few years in the garden. But, they self-sow readily so your patch keeps expanding. The new hybrids don’t self-sow as well as the species, so don’t be surprised if these "perennials" disappear after a few years. Here are a few of the new ones I think are worth trying.

The Big Sky series was one of the first lines to introduce new coneflower colors to the garden. ‘Sundown’, ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Harvest Moon’ have orange, pale yellow and golden colored petals respectively. The bright red ‘Fire Bird’ and orange colored ‘Mango Meadowbrite’ are two other new colorful varieties I recently saw and liked. If you can’t choose between colors, try the new award winning ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ seed collection that features multi-colored echinacea all in one seed packet.

Most echinacea grow 2-to 4-feet tall, however, there are some dwarf varieties such as ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’ that grow around 18 inches tall. It’s perfect for the front of the flower border.

For something completely different look at the cone-fection series. These echinaceas are best described as looking like toy poodles. The cones are colorful, fuzzy, and look like pom-poms. I’m not a big fan, but you might be.

For this week’s tip, keep harvesting your herbs for drying and freezing, but let a few go to seed, too. The native bees love the flowers of mint, oregano and thyme and it helps them survive.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I’ll be talking about hardy kiwi. For now, I’ll be seeing you in the garden!

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