All My Perennials: Coneflowers, Susans, Salvia, and Phlox

By the end of May 2014, I had mapped the sun’s movement, chosen plants, and bought topsoil, mulch, and composted manure. I owned two types of shovels, a garden rake, a hatchet, a digging fork, a kneeling bench, and various smaller implements— all I needed were the plants. I had only researched perennials, having decided to use zinnias and begonias to fill in gaps (I have never planted either). 

Early on, I decided that having plenty of bees and butterflies was a desirable goal. That decision, along with my having long been a fan of French impressionist paintings, determined my flower choices. Coneflowers (echinacea purpura) were the first finalist. They are a personal favorite, with their beautiful mauve-pink color and elegant stems. Later I discovered they have a wonderful fragrance—most flowers don’t, which was a shock.  

Coneflowers in the rain. UltraMax, 700si, June 2019

Black-eyed Susans made the cut because of their vibrant, golden yellow color. (Yellow and lavender are my favorite flower colors, in addition to that of coneflowers.) I had never heard of garden phlox, but every book and magazine said plant some if you want butterflies (they were right). Swallowtail butterflies show up each year and linger on the phlox.  

Carpenter bee enjoying salvia, UltraMax, Maxxum 70

Black and blue salvia was the final perennial to make the list. Here, the attraction was the promise of bees and hummingbirds—again, very true. Jack and Jill, male and female hummingbirds, visit twice each day all summer. They start at one end of the salvia patch and go down the line, skipping only the blossoms occupied by bees. The bees are the biggest success story. A cloud of bees hovers over the salvia from early morning to dusk. At any time, there are 30-40 bees in the salvia plants, a patch of about 4 x 3 feet and up to 5 feet tall, loaded continuously with hundreds of blossoms. It stays in bloom from late May until the frost kills it. These perennials have never disappointed me, except the hybrid coneflowers. Not a single hybrid lasted through the first growing season—not one.  

Garden phlox, Portra 400, Maxxum 5, July 2019

I had read about coneflowers self-seeding but had seen no evidence for the first four years. Then last year, an odd-looking weed popped up near one of the original plants. It took forever to grow and did not bloom until late summer. I was ecstatic! This year, however, there is no question. There are definitely more coneflowers than I planted. Yes!!!

These perennials seem like old friends. I’ve come to know them and appreciate their uniqueness and quirky behavior (I complain more than I’m bothered). The black-eyed Susans spread steadily, so does the salvia. Each will use up any available space. The phlox is an introvert. It keeps to itself, quietly sending out puffs of fragrant blooms all season. 

I love these plants. I hate to see them leave with the frost, and I am far too joyful when they peek out of the ground each spring. I can’t imagine them not being just outside my door. 

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