New plants

Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’

Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’

Every year it seems there are a lot more echinacea cultivars making their way onto the market, many of them in rich and vivid colours that are very tempting, but it has to be said that they aren’t always that easy to grow. Sometimes they don’t seem to be able to cope with a wet British winter, and sometimes they just don’t grow or flower that well in summer – or occasionally both! There was a lot of buzz about ‘Pretty Parasols’ though, which suggested it might be more than a flash in the pan, so I ordered a couple of plants.

I’d read it had strong stems so wouldn’t flop, and a long flowering season with flowers opening successively rather than all at once, and at different heights, giving it a more natural look. That’s the kind of plant I like, and I’m glad to say that it has come close to living up to all those expectations in the first year! I had bought it in autumn last year, and kept the pots in my unheated greenhouse over winter rather than risk leaving them outside. This seems to have been a good move because they started growing strongly in early spring and weren’t affected by the endless rain or the run of hard frosts in April.

Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’ on 1st July

I planted the two plants into one large container in May and put it outside. It started flowering nice and early, right at the beginning of July, and those blooms really did come in succession, each one lasting for many weeks. It was in flower continuously until the start of September. So it hasn’t flowered into November as I’ve read it should, but as this is the first year and it hasn’t had a chance to clump up yet, I think two solid months of these pretty blooms is good going. It really does have strong stems – it hasn’t flopped at all. The pink and white heads with their reflexed petals, which are typical of Echinacea pallida from which I’d guess this is bred, are held at different heights and to my mind this does add to their attraction. I’m not a fan of very uniform plants that sit like soldiers and like them to have a more natural appearance. It’s also scented, which they didn’t mention, but as soon as the flowers were fully open I started to notice their sweet fragrance on the air.

The plants are said to cope well with wind, cold, heat and sun, but since the predominant weather in my garden this year has been relentless grey cloud and quite a lot of rain with only brief interludes of anything approaching heat, I can’t really comment on any of that!

One thing that always baffles me when I read about growing echinacea is the idea that if you don’t dead head them, the cones look attractive when they’re covered frost over winter. I’ve rarely found they hold their shape well enough for that to be the case and it certainly wouldn’t be with this variety. The cones have already developed seeds which are falling away as they ripen leaving a very tiny cone shaped receptacle behind them. I’ve collected some of the seeds and am tempted to sow them next year to see what comes up.

Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’ is widely available from places like Sarah Raven and Crocus, where it costs in the region of £13-£14 for a 9cm pot. I bought it from Barnes Nurseries which are still selling it for £5.50 for a 1 litre pot, so you can guess what I would advise if you want to buy it.

Autumn is a great time to plant shrubs and some herbaceous plants but, as I’ve said, echinacea are somewhat prone to disappearing during the winter in my experience, and plants that have been able to establish a good root system during the growing season are much more likely to survive than if they’ve been recently planted. As long as they are in well drained soil! So, if you do buy it in a 9cm pot and especially if you buy it in the autumn, don’t plant it straight out in the ground because the chances are you might not see it again. Keep it in a cold frame or cold greenhouse, protected from the worst weather. In early spring, if it’s in a 9cm pot you should repot it into something larger and let it grow on before planting it in the ground, though if you’re putting it into a container you could probably skip that. If it’s in a 1 litre pot and bought in autumn I’d still suggest keeping it protected over winter, but it should be fine to be planted straight out in the ground or into a container in spring.

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