Echinacea(s) Extraordinaire – Coneflowers go High Style

Juniper in winter garb

Beautiful big snowstorm on Sunday, not predicted but not minded. Glittering blanket smoothing the world, nowhere to go but a chair by the fire and nothing to do but read and try not to eat leftover cookies – until it was time to shovel a foot of it off the driveway.

Today it’s still bliss-productively white, white white everywhere. Including in my head where after Sunday’s catalog wallow I’m looking eagerly ahead to spiffing up the white garden

A corner of the white garden (in Maine)

and that brings us to the story of my adventures with Fragrant Angel,

echinacea 'Fragrant Angel'

'Fragrant Angel'

in all respects except one an enormous improvement over good old White Swan.

White Swan

The one respect is very long stems and very large flowers, a combo guaranteed to have falling over problems. White Swan always stands bushily by itself.

The story: I bought the well named ‘Fragrant Angel’ a couple of years ago when it was still quite expensive and put it next to a very nice peony, where it grew into a vigorous clump, flowering profusely from midsummer through fall.

But although I kept frugally hoping, the Angel never spread itself around the way ‘White Swan’ does, so when I noticed a robust seedling last spring it looked like cause for celebration.  Certainly seemed to be the same plant. Like ‘Fragrant Angel’  it had very thick stems and large coarse leaves, a conventional Echinacea purpurea on steroids.

Took it a while to start flowering, but eventually buds appeared. Rather dark buds, I’m sorry to say, with a suspicious reddish cast. Sure enough; no dice. The new plant was more or less a throwback to one of the Angel’s parents, ‘Ruby Giant.’

dark pink coneflowerNice but no seegar.

The new plant isn’t quite ‘Ruby Giant’ but it’s far handsomer than the common run, a splendid echinacea in its own right, and I’m sure I’ll feel splendid about it when I figure out where to put it. Meanwhile all I can think is: “Oh great, more magenta, just what I always wanted.”  Common E. purpurea is such a willing spreader you might as well call it a weed.

There’s no point in waiting for the next kid to turn out better. It turns out ‘Fragrant Angel’ has to be vegetatively propagated, so all I can do is divide the one I’ve got or buy a couple more.

Would go the latter route except I don’t trust myself to be restrained. A quick look at the echinacea listings of a few trusted sources reveals selections that have grown almost obscenely large and tempting. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; gardening magazines have been jumping up and down for some time now about new breakthroughs in coneflower breeding. This simple, single purple-pink wildflower now comes in unheard of colors – red! orange! – and undreamed of doubleness (about that the less said the better, as far as I’m concerned).

Echinacea wonderlands include Plant Delights Nursery, Lazy SS Farm and Garden, and Big Dipper Farm, which possibly takes the assortment prize with 47 possibilities. The last 11 are labeled “reference library only, not for sale,” but still…

'Fragrant Angel' and an offspring that will move as soon as a home is found

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