Monday, July 23, 2012

Jim Ault's Last Coneflower

Burgundy Fireworks coneflower
Burgundy Fireworks coneflower

The new Burgundy Fireworks coneflower is striking with its quilled petals and deep red stems. It’s the latest introduction by Jim Ault at the Chicago Botanic Garden who helped kick off the coneflower color revolution. It also will be his last coneflower selection.

Ault has decided its time to move on. The world of coneflowers has changed a lot since his Orange Meadowbrite™ coneflower (Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’ PP #10050) first hit the market in 2004. It was the first orange coneflower in cultivation.

Until then, this native plant had been just plain purple. It now comes in orange, peach, white, yellow, gold, magenta, pink and light green as well as various combinations of those colors. There are dwarf and double flowering varieties and even one called "Double Decker."

“Who would have ever guessed that we would see so much progress in breeding this crop say even five years ago?” Ault wrote in an email about his decision. “The progress in developing novel forms has been stunning.”

He also noted coneflowers are being developed by many people at this point.

“I am honored to have ‘been there’ at the beginning of the new trend in coneflower breeding but I cannot compete directly with the resources of the large breeding programs in terms of staffing, space to grow out plants, etc.” Ault wrote.

Jim Ault
Jim Ault
He's definitely going out with a bang. Burgundy Fireworks (Echinacea‘Burgundy Fireworks’ PPAF) has upturned, beet-red petals that are fused into quills. The deep red color of its stems is more prevalent in the spring and fall but can also be seen in the summer. The leaves get red midveins in cold weather.

It took ten years to develop and combines three different coneflowers: Echinacea laevigata, E. purpurea and E. tennesseensis.

Burgundy Fireworks is hardy in zones 5 to 7 and grows to about 18” tall by 24” wide. Like Ault’s other coneflowers, it is a Meadowbrite™ introduction through Chicagoland Grows®, Inc.

Ault said the Chicago Botanic Garden will continue to evaluate coneflowers though its program run by Richard Hawke. He also expressed concern about Aster yellows, a plant disease that can strike coneflowers.  

“As we grow more coneflowers, the potential is there for Aster yellows to become even more prevalent,” he wrote.

There is no cure for Aster yellows. Once a coneflower is infected, the plant has to be removed and destroyed. Ault estimated that in a bad year, he has lost up to 5% to 10% of his coneflowers to Aster yellows.

“Breeding for resistance may be a solution, but I’m not sure anyone has a clear understanding of which selections are more resistant,” he wrote. He said as gardeners become more educated about Aster yellows, they hopefully will know the symptoms and can remove infected plants from their gardens.

What’s next for Ault? He definitely will be adding more cultivars of Baptisia australis, a native plant commonly known as False Indigo, to his Prairieblues™ series. Ault currently has eight new varieties in nursery trials, with the first expected to be introduced in 2014. He also is developing new phlox cultivars, which may be available in 2013 or 2014.

Ault added that there are some other things he’s working on but he isn’t ready to talk about them just yet.

“Can’t tip my hand to the competition,” he said.

By Karen Geisler

Burgundy Fireworks coneflower landscape
Burgundy Fireworks coneflowers in the landscape
Photo by Chicagoland Grows ™ Inc.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Beauty

Allium Summer Beauty flowers
Allium 'Summer Beauty'

My Happy Returns aren’t happy. The Russian sage is threatening to defect. And my Bloodgood is screaming bloody murder.

Watering restrictions are everywhere in the Chicago area, courtesy of the drought and record-high temperatures. All this has taken a heavy toll on my garden.

I don’t know what I would do without Summer Beauty -- the ornamental onion that is.

This is one allium that definitely lives up to it name.  Its 1 ½-inch light pink balls are just starting to burst into bloom.  The color goes with everything. And unlike many alliums, this one keeps its strappy dark green foliage for the entire growing season instead of fading away once the flowers are finished. It even looks good once the blooms have faded (think star burst) so I leave them up for the winter.

Allium Summer Beauty flower closeup

Summer Beauty, which gets about 16” to 18” high and wide, is definitely drought tolerant. I think I have watered it only once so far this year, although it probably helps that I have it in a lightly shaded area.

It multiplies through rhizomes but not obnoxiously so. It’s just enough so you can divide them in the spring every few years and spread Summer Beauty around the garden.

Did I mention that it’s deer and rabbit resistant? Hardy in Zones 4 to 8? What more can a gardener ask for?

Summer Beauty is especially welcome this year as the only plants still blooming in my garden after our hotter-than-Hades weather are mostly cone flowers and dayliles.

Below are a few pictures from what probably is my garden’s last hurrah for this growing season.  I do have some fall bloomers – asters and sedum mostly – although I’m not sure how they will fare in this heat with limited watering. For now, I’m mostly concentrating on my trees and shrubs, which would be a lot harder to replace than perennials.

So enjoy these summer beauties (small s, small b). And stay cool!
(If you'd like to read about another allium, click here for an earlier post about the circle onion.)

(Plants referred to in the first paragraph are Hemerocallis x 'Happy Returns,' Perovskia atriplicifolia and Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood.')

Cone flowers
Cone flowers (Echinacea)

Burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii)

Lavender Deal daylily
Lavender Deal daylily (Hemerocallis)

By Karen Geisler

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Fireworks Flower

Coral Reef bee balm
Monarda didyma 'Coral Reef'

Fireworks are everywhere this time of year. They're the ultimate celebration of summer, an explosion of color in the night sky.

So I was a bit puzzled a few years back when my son said he really liked our "fireworks flowers." I had no idea what he was talking about.

Imagine my surprise when he took me to the front of our house and pointed to the Raspberry Wine bee balm (Monarda didyma 'Raspberry Wine').  There were more than enough flowers for a bouquet as well as the bees and hummingbirds, so we took some of the "fireworks" inside.

The name has stuck ever since at our house.

One of monarda's many common names actually is "firecracker flower" according to an online search. I always think of a firecracker though as being loud and obnoxious. Fireworks, now fireworks are pretty. And these flowers can be very pretty when in bloom.

Monarda more often is called bee balm or Oswego tea. The latter name is a reference to the Oswego tribe of western New York. Many Colonists apparently used monarda leaves after the Boston Tea Party as a way to protest the British tax on East Indian tea. And yes, it does attract bees so keep that in mind when choosing a location.

Bee on Raspberry Wine bee balm
A bumblebee on Monarda didyma 'Raspberry Wine'

This native plant is a great way to attract pollinators to your garden. It's hardy from zones 4 to 9 and generally grows about 2 to 4 feet, with a spread of about the same size. Two new introductions, Petite Wonder and Petite Delight, are smaller at about 18". Monarda generally flowers in July for me, although it's much earlier than usual this year due to the extremely warm weather.

Its flowers come in white, pink, red, rose and purple. The leaves, when rubbed, have a smell that can only be described as "spicy."

The biggest concern with monarda usually is mildew. I've found the plant definitely needs at least six hours of sun to help ward off the white stuff. Good air circulation helps as well.

Many of the newer varieties have been bred to be more mildew resistent. This year has been so hot and dry in the Chicago area that mildew hasn't been a problem anywhere in my garden. There have been many summers, however, when my monarda wasn't so lucky.

The best thing to do in such cases is to cut the plant back to the new foliage near the roots. You also may have to do this if the foliage starts looking ratty once the plant has finished blooming. That's why I originally put Raspberry Wine toward the back of my border. That way it will be hidden from view if I have to cut it back.

Gardenview Scarlet monarda
Monarda didyma 'Gardenview Scarlet' in the garden

Be sure to give monarda lots of room to spread. As a member of the mint family, it's usually pretty vigorous. I think it actually looks better in a drift. And don't worry if it gets too big for its original location. It usually spreads by underground runners and I've found the new plants are easy enough to remove.

As you may have guessed from my comments above, I'm usually a bit of a pyro around Independence Day. Given the current drought, I think I'm going to have to limit my fireworks this year to "fireworks flowers." Maybe not as exciting, but much, much safer.

By Karen Geisler

Have a great Fourth of July!

Closeup Coral Reef' monarda flower