Sunday, 10 August 2014

Echinacea extravaganza

Perhaps the greatest 'boom' plant of the past decade is the humble coneflower or Echinacea, which has been transformed from a simple single pink or white daisy into a myriad of colours, as exhibited in the picture of our sales beds (left)
The most popular species E.purpurea, has long been grown in British gardens, mainly for it's ornamental value but also for it's medicinal properties. E.angustifolia & E.pallida are less popular. With long, drooping ray petals  & hairy, elliptic basal leaves they are less useful in modern breeding programmes as this is considered an undesirable trait.  The introduction of a yellow flowered species from Texas & Arkansas, named paradoxa has led to the plethora of new introductions in the orange range.

Ten years ago all British gardeners had were 'White Swan', still a good, tall white & breeding totally true from seed, 'Robert Bloom', a deeper pink from Blooms of Bressinghams. A lovely softer dusky pink from Germany called 'Augustkonigin' followed & then nothing, for many years.

Dan Heims, of Terra Nova nurseries in America, has a great interest in native plants & led a very detailed breeding programme which has transformed the range. Each year we are now seeing 30-40 new varieties coming onto the market giving improved colour & garden performance.

On the back of this other breeders like Ball Horticulture in the UK & Marco van Noort in Holland have joined in the chase to swamp the UK in new varieties.

Initially the new colours were well received, the first of which was 'Arts Pride' a rich salmon orange. Unfortunately it proved to be a poor garden plant & has all but quickly disappeared. The initial problems with the new varieties were caused by one of the breeding parents, E.paradoxa, being very short lived or annual & also being rather tender.

As breeding improves, they are now becoming much better, coming through mild, dry winters easily. When buying plants in flower, it is best to remove the flowers, giving the roots the best chance to get ready for the winter. Alternatively enjoy them in a pot & overwinter in a coldframe or cold greenhouse & plant them out in the spring.

Echinaceas need a light, free draining soil in sun, unimproved clay is sure to lead to failure.

A plant we are really looking for is the original 'Magnus' which received an Award of merit at the last trial Wisley undertook. A magnificent, large flowered big, pink purple. However seed companies quickly jumped on the bandwagon of it's success & offered it as a seed strain, denying the fact that it never breeds true from seed. The AGM will be recinded as the true plant does not seem to be around now. The picture has further been muddied by a seed company who has identified this & offers 'Magnus Improved', an even inferior seed strain. If you have a plant of impeccable provenance, please let us know.

Below are a selection of the varieties we currently grow ;-

Echinacea '12th of July'
A strange little plant, unusually bred in Hungary. Only a foot tall with very large leaves & jet black stem. 
One of the first quilled varieties, not overly stable. 30cm

Echinacea 'Caribbean Green'
Strong grower from Darwins Plants, opening pink, becoming greener with age. 60cm.

Echinacea 'Chiquita'
Short form from Terranova, shows some quilling but not yet very stable. 35cm.

Echinacea 'Coupe Soleil'
One of the first 'Anemone' centred varieties, still good. 65cm

Echinacea 'Cranberry Cupcake'
Short form from Terra Nova, strong for an anemone type. 40cm

Echinacea 'Evening Glow'
Subtle creamy yellow flowers, suffusing pink around the cone as the flower ages. 50cm.

Echinacea 'Flame Thrower'
Highly recommended. Very bushy, easy. from Terra Nova. 90cm.

Echinacea 'Gemini Pink'
Simple, semi-double dusky-pink, a good garden plant. 60cm

Echinacea 'Green Envy'
Has some pallida in it with drooping ray petals dipped in green. 75cm

Echinacea 'Green Jewel'
A rather beautiful, fully double lime green. 50cm

Echinacea 'Green Line'
Not really green but gently suffused on opening. 50cm.

Echinacea 'Guava Ice'
Nice two-tone effect with a salmon cone & pink ray petals. 85cm.

Echinacea 'Hot Lava'
Really in your face & well named.  Not a strong grower. 60cm.

Echinacea 'Hot Summer'
Unusual form with salmon-orange flowers, the reverse of the petals are a bright pink. 80cm.

Echinacea 'Leilani'
Close to E.paradoxa but more persistent & long lived. 90cm.

Echinacea 'Mac 'n' Cheese'
Very intense, glowing golden-orange flowers. From Terra Nova. 90cm

Echinacea 'Mama Mia'
Subtly bicoloured salmon flowers taking on violet-pink overtones. 90cm

Echinacea 'Maui Sunshine'
Very profuse yellow form with narrow ray petals. 60cm.

Echinacea 'Meditation'
Short, heavily branched plants, the first to flower & last to finish. 40cm.

Echinacea 'Mozzarella'
A real pure-white anemone form, continuously in flower. 70cm.

Echinacea 'Piccolino'
From Nico Rijnbeek, a strong growing Anemone form. 40cm.

Echinacea 'Pink Poodle'
'Doubledecker' was the first hose-in-hose variety & very unstable. This is much better. 60cm. 

Echinacea pallida
A true species & great garden plant with very long, spidery, drooping ray petals. Not seen often enough. 90cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'Adam Saul'
From It Saul nursery, this short form is never out of flower from late summer. 45cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'Augustkonigin'
An old German hybrid, still popular today. A great garden plant. 75cm.

Echinacea 'Raspberry Truffle'
Very distinct 'Anemone' form with rich raspberry-pink flowers. 50cm.

Echinacea 'Secret Lust'
Striking, glowing rich orange 'anemone' form. Not a strong grower, but wow! 60cm.

Echinacea 'Secret Passsion'
Another from the same series, stronger growing this time. 45cm.

Echinacea 'Sombrero Sandy Yellow'
Short form with well branched stems having small, soft creamy yellow flowers. 50cm.

Echinacea 'Spider'
Has a lot of E.tennesseensis in it's breeding. Narrow ray petals are all quilled.  40cm.

Echinacea pupurea 'Fragrant Angel'
Terra Nova introduction with a rather strong scent. Few have any form of scent so this is a breeding breakthrough. 90cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'Green Eyes'
Named for the central cone of which has two distinct rings of green, well illustrated above.  60cm. 

Echinacea purpurea 'Meringue'
A very profuse 'Anemone' flowered white form, always in flower. 45cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'Southern Belle'
Distinct two-tone form with a bright pink cone & dusky pink ray petals. 80cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'Tom Thumb'
A strong grower, said to be suitable for a pot (not really recommended !) 40cm.

Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan'
Still popular, for the back of the border & true from seed. 120cm.

Echinacea 'Tangerine Dream'
A good contrast between the orange ray petals & almost black cone. 55cm. 

Echinacea Tomato Soup'
Aptly named, this is really glowing, not a strong grower however. 50cm.

Echinacea 'Yellow Spider'
From the new 'Spider Series' this has soft creamy-yellow quilled petals.  50cm.