by CAROL BISHOP MILLER / Huntsville, Alabama, USDA Zone 7

Daisy Chain

I grow many different daisylike (lowers in my garden, but I have my favorites. With bloom times that vary, they brighten the yard from spring to fall.

Prairie coneflower (Ratibida pitmata; US-DA Zones 3-8), or gray-headed coneflower, blooms in gay combination with orange-flowered butterfly weed (Asclepias luberosa) along the rocky banks of the road behind our house. While this long-lived and easy-to-please native flowers prettily enough in our shady backyard, it shines like a beacon by the mailbox, where it basks in afternoon sun. It blooms from late May into July. Drooping, lemon-yellow rays gracefully skirt the conical flowerheads atop four-and-a-half-foot stems. Below, the stout clump of pinnately divided leaves resembles a coarse fern.

The spring-flowering ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemwn) can make a nuisance of itself, seeding about by the thousands, but its look-alike, the summer-blooming Shasta daisy (Leucanthemwn x su-perbunr, Zones 4-9), shows better breeding. At three feet, the cultivar 1 grow could well be the popular ‘Becky’, but I just call it “Mrs. Rogers’s daisy,” after the neighbor who shared it with me. It is a dynamite companion for crimson Phlox paniculate) ‘Starfire’.

Native-plant expert and nursery-woman Jan Midgley introduced me to star tickseed, or downy coreopsis _ (Coreopsis pubeseens van pubescens, Zones 5-9), whose jagged-edged golden daisies dance atop wiry, two-and-a-half-foot stems from May to October. The plant itself tends to be short-lived, so I always encourage chance seedlings and collect a little seed for insurance. Another long-blooming underused coreopsis of a similar size, whorlec tickseed (C major. Zones 5-8), has bright yellow flowers that strike a handsome contrasi with the plant’s smooth, deeply divided, dark green leaves.

Breaking into bloom as the daylilies wine down in midsummer, perennial black-eyec Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida; Zones 3-9) pro vides weeks of color in sun or shade. Fron tightly knit colonies of fuzzy leaves arise blanching three-foot stems capped with dark centered, golden daisies. Meanwhile, anothei rudbeckia, the great, giant, or cabbage coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima; Zones 5-9) sports live- to seven-foot, spearlike stem; tipped with flowers like pudgy brown thumb; wearing yellow tutus. Even without them, I would still grow great cone-flower–for its magnificent blue-green hostalike basal leaves.

In autumn I’ve a cozy front-of-the-border ensemble of daisies. Aswarm with honeybees, Aster Xfrikartii ‘Monch’ (Zone 5-9) forms a billowing lavender-blue cloud of bloom, snuggled between the yellow-centered pink daisies of Clara Curtis heirloom chrysanthemum (Dendranthema zawadskii ‘Clara Curtis’; Zones 5-8) and starry sprays of silk grass (Pityopsis graminifolia, syn. Het-erotheca graminifolia; Zones 5-9), whose clear yellow, asterlike flowers sway on thin stems above a mat of silvery, grasslike leaves.

No horticultural zoo should be without its < giraffe, and in my garden that’s narrow- f leaved sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius; g Zones 5-9), which thrusts eight-foot branching stems with coaster-sized golden daisies against October’s deep blue sky, bringing my daisy season to a pyrotechnic finish. H


Echinacea ‘Sunset’

My newest favorite daisy is Echinacea Sunset’ (USDA Zones 5-9), developed by breeder Richard Saul from crosses between the familiar purple coneflower. Echinacea purpurea, and E paradoxa, the “yellow purple coneflower.” ‘Sunset’ is aptly named-its slightly downcast ray flowers are a vibrant combination of pink and orange (which we called pank when I was a child), with streaks of lavender. As if the stunning new color weren’t enough. Sunset’ is delightfully fragrant, too. Sources, page 88.

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