Choose echinacea for autumn colour and winter interest

Choose echinacea for autumn colour and winter interest
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It’s at this point in the year that you really notice the onset of autumn. Russet, orange and yellow tones start to creep into leaves, the flat flowerheads of Sedum spectabile deepen to crimson and Japanese anemones produce their flowers in pale pink and white. It’s a mellow time of year, but it can leave you craving brighter colour and that’s where echinaceas come in.
These vibrant perennials hail from the North American prairies, so lend themselves to being used in conjunction with ornamental grasses. The sturdy shape of the echinaceas’ flowers is the perfect counterpoint for all those wafty blades of grass and fluffy seedheads. Their colours too – tutti-frutti shades of pink, orange, coral and yellow – are just the ticket to go with buff-coloured grasses.
Pinky-purple Echinacea purpurea is the one that’s most familiar. It’s reliable and forms a manageably-sized clump of green leaves, from which rise a cluster of tall, straight stems that bear the iconic daisy-shaped flower. Their prominent central cones give them their common name of coneflower, and they’re Mecca for butterflies that feast on the nectar.
Gardeners went crazy for the first orange-flowered echinaceas. Sadly the early versions weren’t robust and a cold, wet winter often finished them off – they like very well-drained soil and can’t bear waterlogged roots. But breeding has toughened them up and improved versions are now available. If you want vibrant tangerine orange flowers, go for ‘Tiki Torch’. For flowers that are a bright orangey-red, choose ‘Tomato Soup’. If you fancy yellow, try ‘Sunrise’.
The very latest breeding has concentrated on double flowers and if you like them, you’re spoilt for choice! Varieties like ‘Southern Belle’ have a powder-puff top with a skirt of the usual daisy petals around the base, all in hot magenta pink. ‘Marmalade’ is similar, but in a tangy orange, or there’s ‘Strawberry Shortcake’, mouth-watering with a pink-tinged ‘top’ and creamy white ‘skirt’.
When flowering’s finished, the structural shape of the faded heads will remain throughout most of winter, catching the frosts.

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Every day: Centaurea dealbata

These hardy annuals can be sown into borders now for early flowers next summer. Reliable and easy, flowers are normally blue,
or pink.

 

Extra-special: Centaurea dealbata ‘Black Ball’

Ring the changes with this unusually dark-coloured variety. It’s just as easy but much more dramatic and looks great in a vase of  flowers.

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