Coneflower Power

Recently I planted some Purple Coneflower seeds indoors – to plant outdoors as soon as spring arrives here. It’s a little bit early to plant them inside, and I could just as easily directly sow them in the garden when the time comes, but as I have previously posted, I am tad stir crazy waiting for spring to arrive. It’s cold, bitter and windy today and I have Cabin Fever.

Purple Coneflowers in July

I am planting the Purple Coneflower specifically because I find them to be a wonderful “background plant” for my flower borders. I can’t really call them borders yet, as my garden is still too sparse to have that sweeping effect of having flower borders! With the height of Purple Coneflowers in my garden (about 3 to 4 feet for me) – they can be planted in the background, with shorter plants of sorts in front, and then a dotting here and there a brighter and taller plants.

Muted Purple Coneflowers

Purple Coneflowers, commonly seen in Canadian country gardens, are properly called Echinacea Purpurea. Echinacea are members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family – and therefore are related to asters, daisies, composites and sunflowers. I often confuse Coneflowers with Rudbeckia in my garden before they have bloomed. They have similar foliage and height in my garden, and the similarity is because Echinacea and Rucbeckia are 2 of the 4 genera of the Aster family. Although it seems like there are numerous species of Echinacea – a DNA study of 40 varieties – showed that there are actually just 10 species of Echinacea – Narrow-leaf, Topeka purple, Smooth or smooth purple, Pale purple, Yellow/Bush’s purple, Purple or eastern purple, Sanguine purple, Narrow-leaved purple, Wavyleaf purple and Tennessee – all coneflowers.

Purple Coneflowers amongst Hosta, Phlox and Clematis trying to distract us from the Electrical Metre

These are the plants we think of when we hear about the Echinacea commonly used in folk or natural medicine. There are many Echinacea products available today (using various components of different varieties of echinacea) – used for preventing colds and boosting immunity. These have not been proven conclusively, so honestly it’s just about the flowers for me!

Coneflowers through a window on a rainy day

Echinacea grow across eastern and central North America thriving in prairies and exposed treed fields. I think that it’s the hardiness evolved from growing in these open dry areas, surviving as perennials through harsh winters – that I appreciate. I love the way these pretty flowers sprout up on sturdy stalks – with little maintenance, and survive heavy winds, rain and The DOG in my yard. In my garden, they are best planted in large masses to produce dramatic waves of colour.

The flower heads are large with spiky seed pods in the centre – and the petals point downward – which gives them the “cone” appearance – hence the coneflower name.

When I do transplant my seedlings outdoors, I will be planting them in areas that receive full sun. I will plant them behind lower growing plants that bloom a little earlier – my Coneflowers typically bloom from mid to late summer. For me they bloom after the peonies and roses begin, but before my tall phlox. Although the Coneflowers’ blooms are large, they tend to be a bit more muted than my other blooms – they are dark pink/purple, but not as vibrant as my roses and phlox which may be in a similar colour family.

Coneflower seeds – along with “Butterly Mix” seeds – started indoors

These days there are newer, brighter varieties of Coneflowers for sale at the nurseries – and I will try these when I see them – but for now, I need large masses of colourful easy growing filler, which is why I am getting a jump on planting by starting a few indoors.

A shorter brighter variety of Coneflower hiding below some sage, daylilies and bugleweed

I do mulch all of my gardens with a healthy layer of compost, and I do apply a slow release organic fertilizer through the summer. I tend not to be a waterer of the garden – and the drought resistant Coneflower survives my neglect, but now that my husband is retired – he enjoys watering my flowers regularly!

Purple Coneflower and Butterfly Mix seed packets

The Purple Coneflower seedlings will be set out in my yard in mid May – they will take a month or 2 to establish themselves, and that’s OK. Once they get established they will spread out, and I will divide them – or they may self seed. Most people cut the flower heads off after the bloom, but I leave most of them on to let the birds eat them and create some winter interest.

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