IT WASN'T JUST the golden-rayed, chocolate-centered Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' adorning the cover that drew me to this new book. I love that an entire book has been devoted to these common favorites. While it is true that daisies are not the most subtle or refined of plants, few flowers look better come late summer, in the garden or in the vase. A daisy-shaped flower, with its open face, central disk, and ray of petals, is instantly recognizable, but what really do we mean by daisies?
The daisies belong to the largest family of flowering plants on earth, the Asteraceae, made up of 1,500 genera and 23,000 different species, many native to North America. Heleniums, rudbeckias, echinacea, asters, chrysanthemums, and helianthus are the ones we grow most often in our gardens. Most are straightforward in their needs and easy to cultivate. Many are dependably hardy herbaceous perennials and some are annuals; nearly all prefer sunshine and reasonably well-drained soil. Such daisies as achilleas, centaureas, and coreopsis species and cultivars are drought tolerant; some members of the family prefer heavier, moisture-retentive soil, including ligularias, rudbeckias, eupatoriums, and heleniums. And all those different plants aren't even the most surprising members of the daisy clan --dahlias, ornamental thistles, the various artemisias, and cardoons are also part of the extended family.
Cultural information is given for all the many choices, as is a thorough listing of cultivars. Most useful, perhaps, are the color photos showing the full plant close up against a white background, making them good for identification, and not unlike the Phillips and Rix books (e.g., The Random House Book of Perennials, 1991) that are such a necessity for figuring out which cultivar is which. Such a readable and inclusive approach provides a fresh look at the virtues and possibilities of plants so long familiar and perhaps needlessly overlooked.
See our September/October 2002 issue for Daisies That Dazzle - With their immense clusters of sumptuously colored flowers, heleniums bring summer's warmth to the early-fall border.