Flower Power Summer – Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Shasta Daisies

The appearance of daisies in our gardens is sure-fire sign that summer has finally arrived but choosing the right one for your landscape can be a little daunting given the many colours and sizes available. Also coming into play is the fact that while some of these tolerate our wet coastal weather others do very poorly, preferring the distinct seasons found in more interior climates. So I’m going to walk you through the best of three summer-flowering genera – Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Leucanthemum – more commonly known as Purple Coneflower, Black-Eyed Susans and Shasta Daisies.

Echinacea / Purple Coneflower

The common name is a bit of a misnomer of late as extensive breeding for the last decade has produced Echinacea in a myriad of flower colours; including hot pink, red (‘Salsa Red’), orange, yellow, peach, green (‘Green Twister’), white and burgundy. Unfortunately a lot of the first generation breeding involved such species as Echinacea paradoxa, a dry land native, so the resulting hybrids were not always reliably perennial through our wet coastal winters. Ideal growing conditions for purple coneflowers include full sun with moderately fertile soil that is well drained. Annual topdressing with compost is usually enough for fertilizer, as too much nitrogen will only result in floppy plants with plenty of foliage, but few flowers. While Echinacea is drought tolerant, regular watering usually produces better results as long as you allow the soil to dry out in between applications. Expect a long bloom period, often July to October with regular deadheading – although you may want to leave those latter seedheads for wild finches to forage on. A few old reliables to choose from as far as cultivars are concerned include ‘White Swan’, ‘Ruby Star’ (‘Rubinstern’) and ‘Magnus’ (or ‘Magnus Superior’), all of which have been performing well in our gardens for decades and are hardy to USDA zone 3. There are several more recent seed strains that bloom in their first year which have proven themselves quite durable including ‘PowWow Wild Berry’, ‘PowWow White’ and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, which is a mix of brilliant colours. Double-flowered forms such as those from the Double Scoop series are also available, as well as those with quilled or spoon-shaped petals such as ‘Quills and Thrills’. One caution in regards to the doubles is that they sometimes get a little top-heavy in hard rains or gardens with irrigation and tend to flop. That said, Echinacea are important pollination plants and almost irresistible to butterflies; which is all the more reason to have them in your gardens.

All Images Copyright 2019 MK Lascelle

Slides 1-7 'PowWow Wild Berry', 'PowWow White', 'Cheyenne Spirit', 'Quills and Thrills', 'Green Twist', 'Salsa Red', 'Double Scoop'

Leucanthemum / Shasta Daisies

In my opinion Shasta Daisies have an unjustified reputation as passe perennials. Yes they have been around a long time, the old-fashioned tall forms are a pain in the neck to keep staked and white daisies may not be the most popular plant on Pinterest; but they do have many redeeming qualities that we often overlook. First of all they are hardy to USDA zone 4 and have a very long flowering season, often starting in June and continuing straight through to September with regular deadheading. Secondly, they aren’t just boring white daisies as both fringed forms (‘Esther Read’, ‘Crazy Daisy’) and those with spoon-shaped petals (‘Silver Spoons’, ‘Lacrosse’) are readily available. There are also many cultivars with yellow blooms such as ‘Broadway Lights’, ‘Banana Cream’ and ‘Goldfinch’ (a fringed double) to be found, although these will start a strong yellow and fade to a creamy white. Those of you (like myself) who are strongly adverse to staking perennials can turn to compact forms like ‘Snowcap’ and ‘Snow Lady’ which max out at 10 to 12” tall and are perfect for planting along the front of a mixed border. If that isn’t enough to convince you, then you should also know that they are drought tolerant once established, hold up very well even in extreme heat and attract butterflies. Here in our coastal gardens you will want to plant them in sites with good winter drainage and divide every 2-3 years to ensure vigorous plants.

All Images Copyright 2019 MK Lascelle

Slides 1-5 'Lacrosse', 'Esther Read', 'Broadway Lights', 'Snow Lady', 'Snow Cap'

Rudbeckia / Black-Eyed Susans

I definitely saved the best for last, at least as far as durability is concerned. Rudbeckia fulgida is your premier choice here; in particular ‘Goldsturm’ which is the perfect plant for all you black thumbs out there. It is long-lived, hardy to zone 3, drought tolerant once established and downright difficult to kill - so in my opinion every garden should have at least one plant. The bright gold daisies often last from July through to October (with some deadheading) and the late season seedheads can be left for the wild birds to dine on. ‘Little Goldstar’ is a dwarf form of ‘Goldsturm’ and only grows to about 16” tall with smaller flowers, but more of them. At the other end of the scale is the colossal ‘Herbstsonne’, which towers 6-8’ tall bearing bright yellow daisies with a pendulous form and a golden cone. These are useful at the back of the border or in the corner of the fence line, as the flower display is easily seen at a distance. Perhaps the showiest of the Black-Eyed Susans are Gloriosa Daisies or Rudbeckia hirta with their many hued jewel tones of burgundy (‘Cherry Brandy’), gold and chocolate brown (‘Sonora’) or even mahogany, gold and bronze (‘Rustic Colours’). While these are USDA zone 5 hardy they are short-lived perennials that require near perfect drainage to overwinter here on the ‘wet’ coast. That said, they bloom prolifically in their first season and often self-seed and naturalize. As an option, there is a more recent intergeneric cross between Echinacea purpurea and Rudbeckia hirta that much resembles the latter but overwinters better. They are called Echibeckia and come in several colours, including ‘Summerina Orange’, as well as yellow and brown and many newer cultivars. The flower arrangers among you will appreciate Naked Coneflower or Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Black Beauty’ which dries nicely or can be used as a fresh cut in a bouquet to add a little panache.

All Images Copyright 2019 MK Lascelle

Slides 1 - 8 'Goldstrum', 'Little Goldstar', 'Herbstonne', 'Summerina Orange', 'Rustic Colors', 'Black Beauty', 'Cherry Brandy', 'Sonora'

Well with those three solid perennial choices and a myriad of flower forms and colours for you to choose from, there should be no reason for you to complain about a boring garden this summer. In any case enjoy the sun while it lasts because like or not, it never seems to shine as long as we would like it to.

By Mike Lascelle