Sunday, April 17, 2011

April's Piedmont Pick

'Kim's Knee-High' purple coneflower, photograph courtesy of Niche Gardens
This month's Piedmont Pick is in partnership with one of the country's best native plant nurseries....Niche Gardens, located outside Chapel Hill. Here's the unique back-story behind the plant from Niche's own Lauri Lawson:

"Echinaceas, or coneflowers, are a flower face every gardener can relate to. A basic daisy-type
arrangement, with a prominent spiny orange central cone, surrounded by bright pink petals. They are easy to grow in average soil, bloom well, spread, and attract tons of butterflies and other pollinators. This wonderful sunny garden favorite has become the poster child for the rising interest in native plants, as well as traditional medicinal plants.

Currently, there are hundreds of echinacea hybrids available, in many colors and habits, for gardeners to choose from. And the one that paved the way for the current trend was Echinacea 'Kim's Knee High' from Niche Gardens of Chapel Hill. 
Found in the Atlanta garden of Jimmy and Becky Stewart, and shared with Niche plantswoman Kim Hawks, the original plant was notably shorter than the average echinacea, yet very vigorous. At the time, there were a few seed varieties of coneflower available, but nothing this radically different. Kim, at the forefront of making native plants available in nurseries, thought it worth developing. It took a couple of years to grow out seed from the parent plant, select the shortest and most vigorous, and make sure it was stable. Then, in partnership with Sunny Border Nurseries, who then developed the tissue culture protocol for echinaceas with 'Kim's Knee High', it was introduced to horticulture, and became an instant hit worldwide. Now, years later, there are hundreds of hybrid coneflowers, short and tall, doubles and bigger flowers, in all shades of pink, white, yellow, orange and red, for gardeners to enjoy. 'Kim's Knee High' still remains one of the tried and true favorites, sturdy and vigorous, with a small stature perfect for smaller gardens or mixed containers."

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