Coneflowers are the workhorses of the summer garden. They pump out daisylike flowers, yet thrive in full sun and heat, have virtually no pest problems, and can take less water than most other perennials.
They're also some of gardening's great bargains: Plant two or three coneflowers, and their nectar-rich centers will entice butterflies and honeybees to your garden all summer for free.
That's true whether you grow the common purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) with huge pinkish flowers, or ones from the new generation of coneflowers, with flowers of yellow, white-green, orange, or reddish purple.
Just plant them in full or filtered sun, and they'll bloom from now through early autumn ― longer if you keep dead flowers picked off.
Give plants soil with good drainage and don't pack them in too closely with other perennials, since root competition makes them struggle.
Use them in wide borders with other robust perennials, such as gloriosa daisies, or on the outskirts of gardens (they go dormant in winter). Buy the biggest plants you can find and you'll have the most bloom the first year.
At season's end, you can let flowers go to seed. Finches love them ― nothing is prettier than goldfinches feasting in the autumn garden. And the seeds that fall to the ground will self-sow.OUR FAVORITE CONEFLOWERS
The list below includes some of the best of the newer coneflowers. Most produce their blooms on 3-foot stems. About 20 kinds of coneflowers are sold at nurseries and garden centers; for the best selection all in one place, try a mail-order source such as High Country Gardens (800/925-9387) or Van Bourgondien (800/622-9997).
These varieties started with the early-flowering pale yellow coneflower Echinacea paradoxa, but you'll get the most intense color from the sweetly scented 'Mango Meadow-brite', 'Harvest Moon' ('Matthew Saul'), or 'Sunrise', whose yellow petals surround a deep golden cone.
These resulted from a cross between purple and yellow coneflowers. 'Orange Meadowbrite' is still one of the best. 'Sunset' is more purple-orange, with a rusty red cone and spoon-shaped petals, while the award-winning 'Sundown' ('Evan Saul') has the most intense color of the lot. 'Twilight' has the same intensity in red-orange.
Pure white comes with fragrance in the exquisite 'Fragrant Angel'. For light green with a reddish flush at the base of each petal, try 'Jade'; for a purple flower with green tips, try the new 'Green Envy'.
Purple coneflower (E. purpurea) is really pinkish purple, with 5-inch flowers on stems rising 3 to 6 feet (the same plants grow much taller in shade). Its petals have a swept-back look. Try 'Magnus' for 7-inch flowers and more horizontal petals, or 'Kim's Knee High' for smaller, bright pink flowers on shorter, 2-foot stems.
The oddly charming 'Double-decker' looks like a coneflower wearing a hat made from pink petals. 'Razzmatazz' sports a double pompom top and a skirt of trailing pink petals.