Monday, June 28, 2010

Coneflowers Hate Me

Coneflowers...ubiquitous, beloved, and resilient. I recommend them to others, I've written about them, and the variety of Echinaceas out there keeps multiplying every year. And yet they hate me.

This is the only coneflower I have had this year. It's a pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), a cousin of E. purpurea that's native to the clay-busting shortgrass prairies of my region. Now granted, this plant is only two years old and pale purple coneflowers are by nature much less showy than their famous counterpart, but still...this is it??

Much more frustrating is this E. purpurea cultivar that has underperformed for so many years now that I can't even remember which one it is! (I think one of the Meadowbrights.)

I planted it in too much shade about three or four years ago (my fault), so I moved it the following spring to this sunny site where it's done nothing since. We're well beyond the "it's rejuvenating from the move" phase. What gives??

Then last fall I ordered some plain 'ole E. purpureas for my north border. Only three of the five or six are growing. In their defense, this could be my fault: did I mistake their shoots for weeds earlier this spring and pull them? Possible. Are they unable to grow in the horrible mix of clay and lava rocks? Certainly possible. But, excepting all that, these ones are still barely close to flowering despite plenty of moisture and (what I thought was) decent sun conditions.

I've been gardening for over 20 years, I'm a published garden writer, and yet some of the simplest, most common perennials defy my every attempt to grow them, be they rare native, normal type or fancy cultivar. It is remarkable the ability of plants to remind one of one's humility.


garden girl said...

I feel for you Rose! After trying and killing more fancy cultivars than I care to remember, two years ago I started some purpurea and a couple of other unknowns from a wildflower seed mix. Now in their third year, they're really beginning to shine. Of the original multitudes I tried, only one Ruby giant remains. Five years later it's finally looking reasonably nice.

We have really nice soil here, but I can sure relate to your frustration. I've killed more plants here in the silver maple roots in the last seven years than I killed in several decades gardening before moving here. I'm finally getting the hang of gardening in our dry shade in the last two years. It's definitely been trial and error, and I don't even like to think about how much $$$, time, and water I've wasted on now-dead plants.

Gatsbys Gardens said...

The rabbits did a job on mine this year, one I would swear changed from Sundown to Magnus. I think I am losing it, but I know I did not plant Magnus in that spot two years ago. It was orange last year! Yikes, I had better stop talking about this.


Rose said...

I love that last line, Rose:) I feel that way about several plants that seem to defy me and refuse to grow here. Give those last two coneflowers some time--they look as though they'll burst into bloom soon.

Coneflowers are something I have no problem with; in fact, the past two years I've had an overabundance of them with so many volunteer seedlings. But I have only the common Echinacea purpureas here; the new cultivars seem to be much more finicky, and I haven't had luck yet in finding an Echinacea pallida (but I want one!). However, this spring some of the coneflowers in my roadside garden didn't return, and I have no idea why. I'm thinking their feet may have gotten too wet with all the rain we had last October.

Hang in there; once you get a few established, you'll have a plethora of coneflowers before you know it!

Ramble on Rose said...

Thank GG, Gatsby and Rose for your kind words and support! In a sad postscript to this story, which is timely after Rose's comment, we had part of our roof replaced over the last two days, and in the process two of the three E. purpureas got knocked over by construction equipment moving in and out. I hope the plants can make a comeback next year, but it was an eerie reminder of my coneflower issues!

Diane said...

The only echinacea I can get to grow reliably is purpurea - and boy oh boy does it grow. I gave up on the cultivars and the other species. I had an orange one survive for two years and I thought it was still there but it appears to be purple so who knows?!

If I had all that money back from the plants I've killed in 15 years... well, I could afford a lot more plants!

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

Rose, it was really hard for me to start coneflowers too. Then, one day, I put them in my worst sandy soil, and they thrived. I think your soil may be too wonderful and rich. Try adding a bunch of sand to one spot and mixing it in if you really want them. Oh, and once established, not that much water.~~Dee

Gail said...

Dear Rose, Mine have almost failed me this year, too! We had that killer 19 inches in one day then drought~But, keep trying. Plant them in so-so soil in a container and let them drop seed is another trick of mine! gail
ps I cannot get zinnias to grow!

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