Over the weekend I noticed that coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, below) in the neighborhood are flowering, and it hadn’t occurred to me until now that they’ve disappeared from my garden. There are a number of reasons. I’ve planted a handful of newly introduced coneflowers over the past five or six years, and many gardeners have found these to be marvelous in flower, but not dependably sturdy. My garden has become increasingly shaded over the years, and the soil in much of the sunny rear garden tends to be damp. Coneflowers prefer sunny and dry, and that’s not my garden, so it’s not too surprising that the less than hardy plants have failed.
The native purple coneflower is quite tough, but an early planting in my garden was lost along with equally sun loving and drought tolerant Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’, below) when the front was overtaken by shade. For several years seedlings popped up after the original plants faded, but eventually they failed and now the area is home to hostas and hellebores. In less than favorable conditions even the toughest of plants will fail, but some “improved” varieties don’t stand a chance even when soil and sunlight are ideal.
I’ve planted a handful of coral bells (Heuchera, below) in recent years, and these have proven dependable so long as they are not planted in the garden’s dampest soil. In full sun the red leafed varieties fade a bit by early summer, but given a few hours of afternoon shade they show no ill effects. Most coral bells have been planted in areas with reasonably good soil (not root infested dry shade) and only a few hours of sun, and these are quite happy until the driest days of summer when they need an occasional sip of water to perk them up. Most coral bell flowers are not significant, but the colorful mounding foliage is splendid.
Spring blooming salvias have flourished in the garden for years, but I’ve considered ‘Black and Blue’ salvia (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’, below) to be an annual with marginal cold hardiness. But, with the extraordinarily warm recent winters ‘Black and Blue’ has survived, and now semi woody stems poke out from beneath a wide spreading paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). ‘Black and Blue’ continues to bloom through the heat of summer without a care, and I suspect that now that it’s established the salvia will be able to survive a normal winter, if such a thing were to happen.
My wife has taken to prowling about the garden in recent weeks, and she mentioned that the native mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginium) was straying a bit past its boundaries, endangering a small columnar boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’) and a wide spreading spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’). In its third or fourth year in the garden the spread this spring has surprised me. I don’t know if it’s spreading by rhizomes or seed (or both), but it’s vigorous enough to require some attention a time or two through the spring. Roots of the mountain mint that have spread too far are easily plucked, but a month ago I realized that a hummingbird mint (Agastache, below) was near enough that it would inevitably be overwhelmed, so it was moved out of harm’s way. It pouted and wilted for a few days, but quickly revived, and despite the recent heat it appears the move will be successful.
This spring there have been more than a few Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’. below) seedlings pop up in the dry, lightly shaded ground beside the garden’s largest pond. Only a few have required weeding out, and where there is sufficient space I expect these will spread into full clumps in a few years. The daisies are well mannered, with tight clumps that don’t stray into space intended for neighboring plants, and they flower through much of the summer without any care at all. Despite its tall, slender stems ‘Becky’ does not require staking, and it tolerates sun and a few hours of shade without stems stretching or any notable difference in flowering.