Coneflowers were essential to Dutch designer Piet Oudolf's naturalistic planting palette, when he pioneered his new wave garden style. These rough-and-tumble natives of central and eastern North America are long-lived, relatively pest-free, low maintenance and tough as nails, and are stalwarts of the midsummer to early-fall border.
Over the last ten years, there's been an explosion in the development of new cultivars. For example, ‘Art's Pride', which is being marketed under the trademarked name Orange Meadowbrite, is the first orange coneflower. Advances in fragrance have resulted in several new scented coneflowers, including ‘Ruby Giant', which has a smell reminiscent of alyssum combined with honeysuckle.
In the past, the plant's coarse foliage has been its least attractive feature, but the latest breeding developments have produced varieties with handsome glossy or variegated leaves. Many of the new cultivars also feature jumbo-sized blooms or novel flower shapes and forms, making them desirable both in the garden and as cut flowers.
Seven best new coneflowers
Echinacea purprea ‘Razzmatazz' (Above) A jazzy cultivar, it may play hard to get next season because of demand. Instead of a classic central cone, ‘Razzmatazz' features a pompom bloom surrounded by daisy-like petals. This double-flowered coneflower looks stunning in a bouquet and will last up to two weeks in a vase. 75 centimetres tall, Zone 4.
E. ‘Paranoia' The result of a cross between the yellow-flowered native E. paradoxa and E. purpurea, ‘Paranoia' has rigid pale yellow petals that grow downward from its black cone. A sterile cultivar, this one won't provide food for the birds. 25 centimetres tall, Zone 7.
E. ‘Sparkler' Splashed with white, the variegated foliage of ‘Sparkler' shines in the garden, complementing its rosy pink, 10-centimetre-wide flowers. It requires full sun and moderate moisture. 75 centimetres tall, Zone 5.
E. p. ‘Fragrant Angel' This improved white form produces fragrant petals centred on huge yellow cones. One metre tall, Zone 5.