Echinaceas are amongst the most popular perennials on sale at the local garden centre, however, Echinacea pallida and E. paradoxa are unlikely to be offered. These, together with Echinacea purpurea, have been crossed to create a range of exciting coloured forms. Their flowers are bold and attractive with a central dark cone surrounded by the colourful petals. Common names include Coneflower, Purple Coneflower and in Dutch, Zonnehoed (sun hat).
Unfortunately, Echinacea purpurea cultivars and the hybrids tend to be short-lived garden border plants. In the wild these plants are vigorous but for reasons I have yet to hear convincingly explained, they generally die out within a couple of years when used in mixed border planting schemes. If you can accept this and are prepared to top up their numbers in your borders as required then they are exciting plants, well worth growing.
In contrast to the garden hybrids, Echinacea pallida and E. paradoxa are reliable border plants that I use regularly in my planting schemes. In flower their impact in a border is quite different. Echinacea pallida has long thin pale purple/pink petals that hang down below their central cone. Echinacea paradoxa flowers are more typical of the group with clear yellow petals also hanging loosely below the cones.
I never mix these two together, but in a large border will often use both, but in separate sections.
Whilst the colour they bring to the early summer border is important, the main reason I include these in my perennial meadow schemes is for their bold, cone-shaped seed heads. These seed heads stand stiffly remaining long after the flower petals fall making distinctive contrast with the wispy winter silhouettes of any grasses and other perennials growing nearby.
Surprisingly, in contrast to the lack of vigour of the hybrid coneflowers, these two species regularly set seed in my borders, adding spontaneous additions to the schemes over an incredibly long season.