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IN THE YARD: For a cottage garden, try purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan

IN THE YARD: For a cottage garden, try purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan

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“The cottage garden is a distinct style that uses informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, it depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure,” according to Wikipedia. “Homely and functional gardens connected to cottages go back centuries, but their stylized reinvention occurred in 1870s England, as a reaction to the more structured, rigorously maintained estate gardens with their formal designs and mass plantings of greenhouse annuals…”

Decades ago, cottage gardens were a source of homegrown food and herbs but today have evolved into a non-formal representation of the owners’ tastes. These gardens are generally low-maintenance with a thick growth of summer flowering plants. Native flowering plants are a very common choice, because they are adapted to the local growing conditions and need very little irrigation or fertilizer.

There are a few species of perennial plants that can be planted now to provide color starting in mid-summer next year on into the fall. Two are locally available and are well-known to be reliable: purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan.

Both of these plants are North American natives and commonly grow wild in the prairies and in sunny places of eastern woodlands. They are adapted to survive our winters and summers. They only need irrigation during especially dry periods. Even though they will both benefit from very light fertilizer applications in the early spring, they can easily get along without it.

While they are growing, if they look dry and withered, they should be watered. This is especially true during the first year after they have been planted. If the flowers are less numerous or seem to be smaller than expected, they should be fertilized in early spring the following year.

Both of these plants require full sunlight with a minimum of six hours direct sunshine each day. They tend to grow better in poor soils, because in rich soils they tend to produce lush vegetation but few flowers. Since these are herbaceous perennials, they will die back to the ground when frost hits. When they turn brown in the fall, cut them back to the ground and cover the roots with mulch.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is native to central and eastern North America. It is commonly seen growing wild in prairie environments typified by dry soils that are low in fertility. They bloom from summer until frost. When the flowers become tired and ragged looking in late summer, cut them back by one-third to rejuvenate them and encourage new flowers. Periodic removal of flower heads that have completely died also will encourage new flowers. Seeds can be removed from old flower heads and planted in the fall to establish new beds. Plants can be dug up and divided but only once every four years. Younger plants will not have enough root mass to support being divided. The purple flowers are large and showy with a dark center surrounded by colorful petals. They are attractive to butterflies and humming birds.

You may have noticed a product named Echinaceae in the dietary supplements at the pharmacy or in health food stores. This is made from crushed coneflower petals and is thought to improve a persons immune system.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia genus, several species) is very well known locally. These plants are often seen taking over old cropland and growing on disturbed soils. One species, Rudbeckia hirta, is a biennial. It grows one year but only produces flowers the second year and then dies. This species will drop a lot of seed that will produce new plants the following year and flowers two years later.

There are a few perennial species, such as R. subtomentosa and a cultivar named “Goldsturm,” along with others that flower reliably every year. These are better suited for a cottage garden. They begin flowering in the summer and by late summer until frost, they exhibit showy mounds of bright flower with a black center (black-eye) surrounded by evenly spaced yellow petals. Regular removal of dead flower heads will keep the flowers coming into the fall. Leave the latest flower heads on the plants and leave the stalks standing as the seeds are a source of food for birds in the winter.

Both of these plants will grow fairly large, about 2 feet or more in height and about 18 inches wide. Plant them about 18 to 24 inches wide in the garden.

Enjoy your garden.

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