Cone Heads

Echinacea purpurea and friend in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea purpurea and friend (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

For beauty and durability, you couldn’t find an easier going, easier to grow perennial than the beloved purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Native to the prairies of central and southeastern United States, this comely trooper thrives in average soil and lots of sun from zones 4-8. It has a long bloom period, from June through August, and sometimes longer if spent flowers are removed promptly. The purplish-pink daisy like flowers can reach 4-5 inches in diameter, and stand tall atop sturdy 3-4 foot stems that are lined with coarse green leaves. Plants will self sow and spread gently if seed heads are left, however local fauna also find the seeds to be quite tasty come winter.

An assortment of Echinacea in the border in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

An assortment of Echinacea in the border (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The name Echinacea is derived from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog in reference to the flower’s spiny center cone. And it is the cone that makes echinacea so recognizable to most of us, but times they are a changing. When I first started my gardens over twenty years ago, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ were the only choices out there, and usually purpurea out performed ‘White Swan’ about two to one. Within the last decade or so, however, a lot of hybridizing hanky-panky has been going on, and the result is a fascinating selection of not only colors, but shapes and sizes of flowers that almost seem other worldly. There are petals replicating poufy pom-poms, shredded coconut and thin spaghetti in shades from creamy blush to tropical orange. So, what’s a girl/guy to do when faced with all these options?

Echinacea 'Green Envy' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea ‘Green Envy’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Well, like a kid in a candy store, you can sample a whole bunch of different varieties at once (and worry about the consequences later) or you can be a little more cautious (forego the big credit card bill) and try one or two and see how things go. I started out slow and easy . . . at first, with a few Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Envy’ (green petals tinged with plum, simply divine) but when the Big Sky Series (gorgeous blends from brilliant orange to the iridescent white of floating clouds, with names like ‘Twilight’, ‘Sundown’ and ‘Sunset’) made their debut, I was done for . . . in a good way, of course.

Echinacea Big Sky 'Harvest' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea Big Sky ‘Harvest Moon’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Here are some of the more recent temptresses I have been collecting, all of which have bloomed reliably and returned faithfully even after last year’s harsh winter.  Starting with a few of the mellower hued Big Sky siblings (which are possible crosses of E. purpurea and E. paradoxa), that boast the traditional spiky cone center and look fabulous with other summer perennials including Echinacea Big Sky ‘Harvest Moon’, a slightly shorter (30 inch) plant with rich, cheddar yellow petals, and its sibling, Echinacea Big Sky ‘Sunrise’, also petite, with lemony yellow petals that gradually fade to vanilla through the summer. Both of these plants are perfect for the front of the border with attractive foliage and large flowers.  Like yellow, read THE POWER OF YELLOW.

Echinacea 'Raspberry Truffle' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea ‘Raspberry Truffle’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

And now for some of the poodles (traditionally called doubles); coneflowers with colorful mounds of petals at the center that more resemble the soft, shaggy head of an unshaved poodle than the aforementioned prickly hedgehog. Straight from the CONE-FECTIONS Series comes Echinacea purpurea ‘Raspberry Truffle’, a prolific 36 inch plant with a flower the shade of a creamy strawberry milkshake that intensifies at the center.

Echinacea 'Marmalade' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea ‘Marmalade’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Another CONE-FECTIONS introduction sporting the beehive hairdo is Echinacea purpurea ‘Marmalade’, a 2 foot plant whose blossoms have slightly weeping petals of creamsicle orange with hints of banana yellow.

Echinacea 'Southern Belle' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea ‘Southern Belle’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

And my personal favorite of the CONE-FECTIONS coneflowers is the stunning, the dazzling, Echinacea purpurea ‘Southern Belle’, with a head of fuchsia locks atop long 36 inch legs that are sure to cause a double take. And this belle of the ball blooms non-stop from June through September, even during dry periods.  Here are other PINK BLOOMERS to consider.

Echinacea 'Secret Glow' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea ‘Secret Glow’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Can you keep a secret? I hope not, because the SECRET SERIES Echinacea are here with names like ‘Secret Desire’ (a melon pink) and ‘Secret Lust’ (a passionate orange), and the one I am shamelessly growing, Echinacea ‘Secret Glow’, a mysteriously mesmerizing, golden honey hued confection of coneflower-dom that produces dozens of radiant flowers on 30 inch stems all summer long.

Echinacea purpurea is a garden favorite in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Echinacea purpurea is a garden favorite (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

All in all, coneflowers make a great addition to any sun drenched garden. They are loved by butterflies and bees, they make wonderful bouquets, and the birds adore their abundant seed heads in winter. Now is a great time to pick up a few from your local nursery, as you will be able to see the real color of the bloom. And while you’re there, see if they have any plain old Echinacea purpurea, as this matriarch of coneflowers is where it all began~


  1. Beautiful as usual. Well done and very enjoyable.

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