The Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, is a beautiful, herbaceous perennial, currently at the height of fashion thanks to the vogue for naturalistic prairie style planting, as well as its valuable wildlife credentials.
Its large, purple-pink daisy flowers with their distinctive central cone in a rich, rust-red are held aloft tall, sturdy stems and dark leaves that are coarse and rough to the touch. They bloom continuously, from very early summer right up until the frosts, making it an invaluable plant for extending the flowering season in your garden and the nectar rich blooms are also much loved by pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies so this is one of the best wildlife-friendly plants you can grow.
The daisy rays have an attractive droop as they fade and deadheading flowers is essential to keep the blooms coming –Echinacea also make a gorgeous cut flower. But leave the last few flowers of the season uncut and they will add another dimension to the winter garden, when the russet seedheads will remain intact well into the new year. Adding texture and drama to your borders, they will also provide food and shelter for wildlife, such as birds like finches, who will flock to them, long after their flowering season has ended.
Echinacea are fully hardy and thrive in full sun, although they can cope with some shade. They are also unfussy about soil, except for very dry or very wet, boggy ground, which they hate, especially in winter. Keep the plant well watered after planting until it is established and provide young plants with some protection against nibbling slugs and snails, although once mature, plants are generally trouble free from pest and disease attack. This is thought in part to be due to their tough, rough leaves. Despite its height the robust stems do not need staking. Divide congested clumps in spring or autumn every few years and mulch every year in either spring or autumn, with well rotted garden compost or manure Echinacea looks lovely planted en masse in drifts through a mixed border, with grasses and other perennials, such as the similarly flowered rudbeckia, and dahlias, both of which flower late in the season too, or mix with contrasting plants such as the delicate foliage of bronze fennel or the spiked stems of Liatris spicata.