Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Exploding Echinacea & Other Pillars of our Summer Garden

The sultry days of summer are upon us and while I'm melting just strolling around the garden the echinacea are exploding. They are in their element in our sunny perennial garden blooming vigorously throughout the summer, tolerating heat and drought like a champion.

Echinacea purpurea with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Standing in front of my Piet Oudolf inspired perennial bed with its mass planting of Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Liatris (blazing star) and Peroovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage), I observe hundreds of pollinators at work.

mass planting of echinacea purpurea

This bed is excellent at attracting a variety of bees, beetles and butterflies large and small.

Pipevine Swallowtail on purple coneflower

Our summer garden is all about the pollinators. Every plant that excels here in the heat, humidity and often lack of rain, was chosen for the purpose of providing for butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, bees and wasps (yes, they are friendly pollinators too), beetles, flies and ants. They are what gets me motivated to go out and brave the red-hot heat and keep the garden going when it is so tempting to stay indoors in the comfort of air conditioning.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on passiflora incarnata

On the hill garden where we have introduced a variety of perennials that can handle drought and heat,  we have several species of hybrid echinacea.

Echinacea x 'Evan Saul'

The large reddish-orange petals of the Echinacea x 'Evan Saul' is part of the Sundown Big Sky series. The fragrant blooms are a real standout and prolific bloomers.

Echinacea x 'Evan Saul'

Another beauty is the appropriately named Pow Wow Wild Berry Echinacea. It's vibrant color livens up the butterfly garden with its intense hot pink color. It was breed for its darker flowers and more compact growth habit which helps it stand up to our summer pop up thunder showers.

Pow Wow Wild Berry Echinacea

Yarrow has intermingled with this clump which complements it nicely. Allowing plants to mix makes it easier for pollinators to feed because they don't expend so much energy flying around looking for nectar sources.


Our white echinacea has become a host plant this year for the silvery checkerspot butterfly. The caterpillars have been rather ruthless munching away at all the leaves and petals, leaving the stalks bare. But, how can one complain when they

silvery checkerspot caterpillar on white echinacea

morph into this exquisite butterfly!

Silvery Checkerspot on Stokes Aster

Another June bombshell is the button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). The pollinators go crazy for these bodacious blossoms.

gulf fritillary butterfly on Cephalanthus occidentalis

If you have a moist area that gets sun to partial sun consider this native shrub.  The pollinators will be slurping out of your blooms.

yellowjacket hover fly (aka good news bee) on buttonbush

They'll also let you know when the blooms are not quiet ready for drinking.

honey bee on unopened cephalanthus occidentalis bloom


Coreopsis are little rays of sunshine around our garden. The wispy stems provide movement in the garden when sweltering summer breezes sway them to and fro. It makes it a little more challenging for pollinators to visit the blooms as they flutter to stay on the landing pad but they still are excellent at attracting a wide variety of visitors.

Silvery Checkerspot butterfly on Coreopsis 'Cosmic Eye'

Variegated Frilitllary butterfly on Coreopsis 'Cosmic Eye'
Coreopsis grandiflora
bee visiting coreopsis 'Cosmic Eye' (hybrid variety)

The flamboyant florets of gaillardia are cheerleaders in our summer garden. They are free flowering and very dependable. You just can't go wrong with this wonderfully colorful native prairie plant.


And, the pollinators just dig right in. The bees especially, plunge head first, disappearing into the bloom. Often times multiple bees do a dance around the disc jockeying for just the right spot.


So, how is your summer garden thriving? Do you have some standouts that work well in your garden? I would love for you to share your favorites in the comments and be sure to include what part of the country/world you garden.

(Friendly reminder: Be sure to stay hydrated while working in the garden! We had a frightening experience at camp last week where one of the kids got dehydrated and suffered heat stroke. It was a serious reminder that we all need to drink lots of water while outdoors working in the summer heat)

18 comments:

  1. What a nice grouping of echinacea and other pollinator attractors.

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    1. Thanks Janet! I do love the echinacea and they are so great at reseeding. So what the voles get, the plants replace the following year.

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  2. One plant, and so many colors! Your echinacea is wonderful - bright and cheerful! Mine was eaten by .. a bunny .. a deer ... slugs? By someone! I put a cage around it, and it slowly grows back. Looking at your plants, I want to plant more echinacea. Thank you Karin!

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    1. I started with three echinacea purpurea several years ago. The voles got one plant but I the other two survived. I left the seed heads up for the birds in winter. Apparently there were plenty of seeds to go around because I had 20 plants the following year and they continue to spread. They are tough plants so I have faith that yours will be successful. There is always room for more echinacea in a garden!

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  3. You know I just don't care for echinacea at all... !! Yours look fabulous! And I see we have the same coreopsis! Great minds... ~Julie

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    1. Of course I am kidding about not liking echinacea! :)

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    2. Haha Julie! I know you love them! Looking at photos of your garden I see many similarities in plant choices!

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  4. Amazing pollinator captures, Karin! Interesting how it seems we're "catching up" with you. My Echinaceas are putting on a show now, too. I've been thinking about adding a Passion Flower to my garden--for the Fritillaries and the hummingbirds. Apparently, we're just on the edge of its native range. I figure it's worth a try--what a beautiful plant! Also, Buttonbush has been on the wish list for a while, as an alternative to Butterfly Bush. I just have to figure out if I'll buy one now, or wait until we move. You have some very healthy and beautiful plants!

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    1. Beth I removed all my butterfly bushes three years ago when I discovered they are invasive in my area. I started really focusing on native plants to attract pollinators. I definitely recommend the button bush if you can find one. The biggest one I've ever seen was at a nature preserve in Michigan. Let me know if you want me to send you some passion vine seeds to you in the fall. They may be annual for you but it is worth a try. I did see one in Michigan that came back year after year. It was in a protected outdoor courtyard. It's worth trying!

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  5. Oh great, the photos are wonderful and the scenes lovely. Your summer is when the landscape is full of life, here in the tropics it is at the beginning of the dry season. The planst sprouted ready to be eaten by larvae and flowers emerge at the same time with the butterflies. Oh my hands will be full again in a few weeks. I have that gaillardia that suffers much during our dry season but still gives me lovely flowers come rainy season. It is still acclimatizing here.

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    1. Those are tough conditions you are facing but I'm sure the native plants are well adapted. The gaillardia are tough. I imagine your plants welcome the rains when they finally arrive.

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  6. This year has been an odd one, starting out with cold wet weather through spring, then 90° weather in mid May. Our bloom cycles have been very varied as a result. My Echinacea is now blooming too which is early for it. The stokes aster is ready to pop. Yarrow has been blooming for a while. It is nice to see so much bloom in your area and all the pollinators. Too bad you get such heat though. It makes being outside a chore sometimes. At least it is far less frequent here.

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  7. Coneflowers, rudbeckia, stachys 'Hummelo', lavender, agastache "Blue Fortune', and my Rose of Sharon are all pollinator magnets. My garden buzzes! Love all these great pics! I need to keep an eye out for those little caterpillars. Japanese beetles just arrived. Ugh....

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  8. We have purple and white coneflowers, as well as rudbeckias & they are definitely a favourite in my Southern Ontario garden. Gorgeous colour, pollinator attractors and they bloom for such an incredibly long of time (for a perennial). The fact that they take almost no effort to maintain after that first year doesn't hurt either! Other favourites from the edible garden are oregano & chives - simply covered with bees when they bloom.

    I'm glad to hear that your child is ok - how scary and a definite wake up call.

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  9. Anise Hyssop, Mexican Sunflower, Yellow Coneflower, Joe Pye Weed, and Swamp Milkweed (and Butterflyweed) are probably the summer standouts for pollinators. I had to stop growing Echinacea because of aster yellows, which is very sad, but the Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) does pretty well.

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  10. I haven't noticed nearly as many butterflies up here in Massachusetts as I did down South, but when I see them, they are usually on my Purple Coneflowers! The bees are also currently going crazy for the Nepeta, as well as the Swamp Milkweed that is just starting to bloom. Poor kid! Good reminder to stay hydrated out there, especially as so many are suffering record high temperatures this summer.

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  11. I have to watch myself in the heat too especially because I have to wear pants and long sleeves....your garden is a butterfly oasis....here the bees and other insects enjoy but not the butterflies. I suspect because I am only one in a sea of lawns and chemicals. I have been wanting a Buttonbush and it would do great in the back where I ma redoing our rain garden....

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  12. There are so many different types of butterflies in your garden. A few have started to appear here. I love seeing them!
    I wish I had a similar sea of echinacea. I have a number of plants, but not enough to fill a bed. Love the mix of Pow Wow Wild Berry and the delicate pink yarrow. So pretty! Stay cool Karin!

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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