Plant of the Month
Coneflower, Purple (Echinacea purpurea)
One plant that has been in my gardens for decades is a purple-pink daisy aptly called purple coneflower (scientific name Echinacea). In recent years there has been a veritable explosion of new, vibrant colors and unusual flower forms. The new varieties have become quite different from the original dry plains plants, popular during the 1970's interest in medicinal plants.
While many of the new types are striking, others look somewhat deformed. A few of the double-decker versions resemble the effects of eriophyid mite infection or aster yellow. Many are sterile and attract few birds or insect pollinators.
At a time of increasing concern for many of our pollinators these mostly sterile flowers are not helping support native insect life. Natives and nativars (cultivated native plants) are much better at supporting insects and bees. My coneflower favorite, and a true native to this state, is the Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) sometimes sold as a hybrid called 'Rocky Top'. The plants may not be as showy and robust appearing as some coneflowers but they always attract bees, butterflies or moths, especially if kept deadheaded.
Echinacea that can be grown from seed will attract a wide variety of pollinating insects. Two other stellar examples are ‘Pow Wow Berry’ and ‘Cheyenne Spirit’.
All of the species of coneflower do best in full sun, and can be drought tolerant when established. They don't do well when over watered but are generally tough as nails, a trait appreciated by beginners as well as old hands. - by R. Lieber
Bleeding Heart, Wild or Fringed (Dicentra eximia)
When most people think of bleeding hearts they think of Dicentra spectabilis, the plant I have called “English bleeding heart.” But in researching, this article I found that they are actually Asians like so many plants that were taken from China to England and then passed on to America. The version that is our own American bleeding heart is Dicentra eximia, considered a wild flower here in Tennessee. Ours may be somewhat less showy, but it is a completely dependable plant, blooming all summer. In my present garden, a white one was planted about five years ago and there is now a community of its seedlings, most of which are the original pink color. Named because their blossoms resemble a dangling heart, they are a sure thing for succeeding in a shady or dappled shade bed. In her book, Gardening with the Native Plants of Tennessee, Margie Hunter described their seed pods as “looking like a tiny banana,” and they burst open to produce many seeds and a lot of seedlings. And just about any time I visit them there will be bees checking them out. Highly recommended! - by E. Johnson
Azalea, flame (Rhododendron calendulaceum)
I have always loved the native azaleas and have several in my garden including two that are flame azaleas. These are the matchless wild azaleas that live in our East Tennessee mountains and grassy balds. There is nothing more beautiful than a native azalea in bloom. The colors can be used to create a stunning specimen in a flower bed, and they bloom later when the usual evergreen azaleas are through blooming. Avoid placing them among plants that require lime, because they need an acid soil, no more than 6.5 pH. I have observed hummingbirds coming to my azaleas. Plants can be purchased when small and grown in a container until large enough to transplant into a flower bed. - by E. Johnson
Dogwood (Cornus florida)
In most of East Tennessee, C. florida and her many cultivars reign supreme in spring, with shiny, new leaves and abundant blossoms in March and April. This native dogwood is drought tolerant once established, tolerates clay soils, and is usually free of disease. It will grow in part shade or full sun, with more blossoms in relation to amount of sun. Mulch to retain moisture.
The “blossoms” are actually colored bracts and the true blossom is a cluster located at the center of the bracts. In autumn the foliage is a stunning red. Up to 36 species of critters are attracted to the red winter fruit!
The gardener may select from white, pink, and red (really a deep rose) for color. White makes a spectacular backdrop or specimen when planted with evergreens, and echoes the natural woodland variety bringing a bit of the Tennessee countryside to your garden. White avoids color clash with any redbuds planted nearby and seems to thrive better, grow faster, and have greater disease resistance than the pinks and reds. My favorite white variety is ‘Cherokee Princess’.
Anthracnose fungal disease has been a serious problem with forest dogwoods. Avoiding stress on young trees and planting where air circulation is good will help the tree's resistance. Two notable cultivars, ‘Appalachian Spring’ and ‘Appalachian Snow’, were developed specifically to resist anthracnose. Fungicide application in spring following a year of severe infection will often remedy the problem in other varieties. - by L. Smalley