Tidewater Gardening - March 2009

Orangy-red Coneflowers?


K. Marc Teffeau

   For the last five years I have spent the end of the first week and weekend of February in beautiful downtown Louisville, Kentucky, helping to run the ANLA Management Clinic. The Management Clinic is the top national educational and networking conference for nursery and crop producers, independent garden centers and landscape design/build firms in the country. As part of each Management Clinic there is a New Plant Pavilion where large full-color posters and descriptions of new plant introductions are displayed. The over 800 participants at the Clinic get to vote on their favorite new plant introduction from this display.
    The 2009 winner? A stunning orange/red cone flower named ‘Tiki Torch.’ If the pictures of this new perennial variety are true to color, this is an absolutely stunning deep orange/red Echinacea. We are all familiar with the traditional purple cone flower, and you might have seen or have in your perennial flower bed one of the newer yellow cone flowers that were introduced a couple of years ago by the Chicago Botanical Garden. ‘Tiki Torch’ would be a great addition to your perennial garden. If you grow cone flowers for cut flowers, you’ve gotta have this one in the mix.
   ‘Tiki Torch’ would be great for use in mixed borders, foundation plantings, beds and borders, naturalized plantings and as a container plant. It produces large, radiant orangy-red blooms with broad petals and spicy fragrance on long, sturdy stems. Attractive burnished copper-colored seed heads are great for dried flower arrangements. If you want to encourage continuous rebloom of the plant, then cut some of them off. The ‘Tiki Torch,’ like other cone flowers is easy to grow. It needs a full sun, well-drained site for best growth. Once established it is tolerant of summer heat and humidity and drought. ‘Tiki Torch’ is the result of a breeding program by Harini Koripara of Terra Nova Nurseries in Canby, Oregon, and is a cross between the native yellow species E. paradoxa and a purple selection named ‘Ruby Giant.’
    Phlox is always a nice addition to the perennial bed. One of the problems with the traditional phlox is that it usually ends up getting mildew on the flowers and leaves later on in the hot humid summer. A new Phlox paniculata that was introduced last summer by Blooms of Bressingham is ‘Blushing Shortwood.’ This phlox is mildew resistant and produces clusters of pink and white bicolored blooms in the early to midsummer garden. It is a smaller phlox, growing 24 to 30 inches tall by 20 inches wide and does not require staking like the traditional phlox.
    The ‘Blushing Shortwood’ is good for use in front or center island beds and an excellent large container plant and for use as a cut flower. As with all phlox, ‘Blushing Shortwood’ needs full sun and well drained soil with lots of organic matter. One of the contributing factors to mildew on flowers is poor air circulation. Space the plants in the bed so that good air circulation can occur between plants.
    Ground covers are a good alternative to turf in many landscape situations. The most common ground covers are cultivars of English Ivy, Hedra helix. In some locations, English Ivy can become invasive and cause problems. While looking for a native groundcover that may be an alternative, I came across Foam Flower. Not being very familiar with the species, I did some research and found that this native eastern groundcover has a lot of potential in the landscape.
    Foam Flower, Tiarella cordiflora, is a woodland species that can do well in dry and moderately wet situations. The plants usually grow from four to six inches tall, making it a nice low growing cover. A plant breeder named Sinclair Adam of Dunvegan Nursery has created some unique selections, all based on the names of Pennsylvania rivers. These heart-shaped leafed groundcovers also flower which gives added interest to the plants.
    A press release from Plants Nouveau, who are handling these foam flower cultivars, mentions five different ones: Delaware, Lehigh. Octararo, Susquehanna and Wissahickon. Of the five releases, Delaware has the largest rounded leaves with deep purple markings. Each plant grows four to six inches tall with a spread of up to 18 inches. Dark red flower stems hold the prolific, deep pink blooms above the foliage. The plant flowers from April through June.
    Lehigh has deeply lobed apple-green leaves and also spreads about 12 inches per plant. The center veins of the leaf exhibit markings of a deep maroon color. Its peachy pink blossoms occur from May through late June.
    If you are looking for individual plants that spread more than 12 inches, Octoraro is a candidate for planting. This variety has thick flower stalks that hold mauve-pink buds above the foliage. These buds open to a creamy white, light pink bloom from early May to July.
    If you are looking for deeply lobed leaves with dark markings in a groundcover, then Susquehanna may fit the need. The deep purple to black markings on the leaves begin as subtle veining and mature to cover all but a thin margin of each deep green leaf. Susquehanna is the shortest of the series, growing to only two inches tall, but it is very vigorous, covering up to two feet of ground in one season. Susquehanna’s foliage remains semi-evergreen until March when it is overgrown by new foliage. Many white blooms are held high above the foliage from April to June.
    Last in this series of Foam Flowers is Wissahickon. This groundcover bears the shiniest foliage and is the longest blooming of the series. A slower spreader, Wissahickon grows four to six inches tall and spreads up to eight inches the first growing season. The glossy, grass-green foliage remains well into the winter months and blooms begin in late April and continue into late July. Like Susquehanna, Wissahickon’s foliage remains semi-evergreen until March, when it is overgrown by new foliage. If you are interested in purchasing one of these groundcovers, check with your local independent garden center to see if they have it in stock.
    Its March so can spring be far behind? Don’t forget that this month is when you need to start planting your early, cool-season crops. With the recession, there has been a tremendous increase in interest about growing your own vegetables. In fact, I wonder if vegetable transplants will outsell annual flower transplants this spring. Garden peas, radishes, onions, spinach, turnip greens and collards will all grow well in cool soils – which means they can be planted towards the end of March.
    Other cool season crops include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage. Potatoes and salad vegetables such as lettuce and carrots can be planted now. Don’t forget the edible pod peas and spinach. Since most spinach varieties give out in warm  weather, make sowings every week for three or four weeks to have a good, fresh supply coming up until June.
    If you want to spice up the annual bed, many annual flowers are very frost hardy when the plants are small. You can sow the seeds of alyssum, California poppy, candytuft, larkspur, pansy, viola, phlox, pinks, Shirley poppy, snapdragons, stock and  sweet pea as soon as the soil has thawed.
    March is an excellent time to plant trees in the landscape. Many of the trees from the garden center come as balled and burlapped stock. Sometimes you need to pay close attention to the burlap around the root ball. It may look like burlap when in fact it could be a brown plastic material. These synthetic materials enclosing the roots of trees and shrubs must be completely removed before the plant is placed in the ground. If you purchase balled and burlapped plants, to be on the safe side, remove the material covering the root ball. If the tree is very heavy, peel the material down to the bottom of the hole and cut it off if you cannot remove it completely.
    Happy Gardening!!