Perennials Archives

Purple Coneflower for Your Summer Garden

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'-1Behnke Nurseries’ Perennial Department is featuring two cultivars of one of the best summer blooming perennials, the Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinstern’ (often translated as “Ruby Star.”)  Although the common name is purple coneflower, they are really pink. Not my fault.

These are similar seed-grown cultivars (being seed-grown they are somewhat variable in height and bloom color, but in general): Both top out at around 3 feet in height, but ‘Rubinstern’ is on average a bit shorter than ‘Magnus’ and has deeper pink flowers.  They both have petals that are relatively horizontal as they open, like a daisy, rather than droopy like a shuttlecock, as is the case for many of the coneflowers. As the flowers age, they become more reflexed.

Blooming begins about now, with heaviest bloom in June and July, continuing to bloom sporadically into August and even September.  Blooming is heavier and longer with established plants, of course.

Siting is best in full sun, in good garden soil.  Like many perennials, if you feed them regularly and water them frequently, the stems will be weak and the plants may fall over. Tough love and all that, once they are established.

They are native to the Eastern and Central United States, and are terrific in butterfly gardens. They also are a good addition to a hummingbird garden, as they attract small insects that hummers like to grab to supplement their nectar feeding. Seed-eating birds like goldfinches will be attracted to the ripening seed heads.

A summer garden or large container combination I like is planting Echinacea with Perovskia (Russian Sage), which has a blue flower and a similar bloom time.  A silver-foliaged plant like an Artemisia or a Dusty Miller makes a particularly nice addition to the two.

‘Magnus’ and ‘Rubinstern’ are in 1 gallon pots, and are 1/3 off of regular price, from June 25 thru July 1st, 2009.

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'-2Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinstern'

Lilies – A Splash of Color For Partial Shade

lilies-2Our perennial department has potted lilies. These are budded and blooming plants, 3 per pot, in 3 gallon pots, so they are quite showy! We suggest you enjoy them in the pot as a deck plant, then, when they are out of bloom, that you plant them out into the garden.

Lilies do best in sun or light shade, with cool soil. This is best achieved by having a ground cover to reflect the heat from the soil. (“Tops in the sun, feet in the shade;” clematis have similar cultural preferences.)

There are a number of different types of lilies, including Asiatic (the easiest to grow), Oriental (considered more tricky, but strongly fragrant), and various hybrids that combine aspects of various types, such as the LA hybrids, which are a cross between Easter Lilies (Lilium longiflorum) and Asiatic Lilies, resulting in easy-to-grow,colorful varieties that carry the fragrance from the Easter Lily parent.

We have a good assortment of lilies for you, in various colors and heights: anywhere from natural dwarves that only get 14 inches tall, to others that can reach 5 feet once established in the garden.

For gardeners who have partial shade, are tired of impatiens, and are looking for a splash of color, try some lilies.

Heuchera – Midnight Rose

img_6527As a silverback in the garden center world, and a frequent traveler, I have seen about a billion perennials and heucheras are among my top favorites. The species are North American natives, with small flowers that range from showy (giving rise to one of the common names of “coral bells”), to not-so-showy, which in horticultural jargon we call “interesting.”

Literally hundreds of hybrids have been introduced over the last 20 years, and at least two good books on heucheras have been written. A good website to visit for information and photos is that of one of the primary heuchera breeders, Terra Nova Nurseries,

Heuchera are pretty much all produced through tissue culture, and many are patented; thus, they tend to be fairly expensive (which is one reason that the sale is so exciting). They also have a reputation for being fussy, which means that proper siting is important.

They do best with morning sun, afternoon shade, and good drainage. They are terrific in raised beds and raised planters. They are superb in mixed containers, generally as the “filler” layer in a “spiller, filler, and thriller” combo.

They are used mainly for the terrific range of foliage colors, from nearly black to purple,  silver, caramel, golden, peach, and so on. Even green!! Frequently the edges are ruffled.  The small flowers may be showy, in red, pink and white, especially when multiple stems are in bloom, giving a very fine textured airy look.

If your idea of gardening is to paint with plants, then heuchera should be a mainstay of your palette. The color combinations, especially in mixed containers, are endless. And if sheltered, they may give you a nice show even in winter.

We are proud to have discovered one of the most popular heucheras here at Behnke Nurseries. Terri Poindexter on our Beltsville garden center staff, noticed an unusual plant in a group of black ‘Obsidian’ heuchera.  The plant had pink splotches, as if it had been flecked with pink paint. We submitted the plant to Terra Nova, which patented it, and released it as ‘Midnight Rose,’ consistently one of their most popular plants.

Sedums – Spillers, Fillers, and Thrillers.

img_7842All of the Sedums (common name, Stonecrop) in our perennial department are on sale (Thursday, May 14 thru May 20), 1/3 off regular prices.  The sedums are a diverse group of plants, easily grown. For the most part they prefer full sun and well-drained soil.

They will tolerate afternoon shade, but the foliage colors will be less intense, and the taller ones like ‘Autumn Joy’ are likely to sprawl like a teenager in algebra class (“Sit up straight!”), and blooming will be reduced. There is a native sedum, Sedum ternatum, which is a well-behaved creeping variety with white flowers, which really does fine in partial shade. Too much water or fertilizer also causes soft growth; sedums are best grown “lean.”

The sedums we offer come in two forms: low creepers many of which make good img_7843_edited-1small area-ground covers, and those that grow from a compact crown, nice as accents or specimens. They all work well in containers.  It is said that containers need “spillers, fillers, and thrillers.”  The creeping sedums make good spillers, cascading over the lip of the container. The smaller growing clump forms make good “fillers”  while, depending on your quotient for excitement, the taller ones can be your prime focus or “thriller”, at least in an autumn-themed container. The creepers and smaller clump forms are also great tucked into pockets in unmortared stone walls.

In addition to the seasonal flower display, generally late/spring or early summer, or fall, depending on the selection, many of the sedums have colorful foliage with golden, red, gray or purple coloration. Some are color-fast, while others develop deeper color in cool weather.

Stop in this weekend to see our sedums and other perennials. We have thousands of perennials in stock!

Dianthus "Firewitch"

dianthus-firewitch-2Behnke Nurseries’ Perennial Department features Dianthus “Firewitch” this week. (Officially and properly Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Feuerhexe’, we are using the translation “Firewitch” to sound more user-friendly.) This was the 2006 Perennial Plant Association Perennial of the Year, and a terrific writeup may be found at:

The Perennial Plant Association is a trade association of growers, retailers, writers, landscaper and interested gardeners, dedicated to promoting the use of perennials. To be designated a Perennial of the Year, the selection must be able to be grown over a large geographical area.

In our area, the “pinks” can be a challenge due to our clay soils. A raised bed, rock garden, planting on a slight slope–anything that improves drainage will make you more successful with overwintering this beautiful plant.

Electric pink flowers in May, and blue, grass-like foliage are it’s claims to fame. Low growing, place it in the front or the garden, or a container, so it is easily viewed.

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