These rugged perennials were part of the prairie landscape of the Midwest, which makes them hardy, drought-tolerant and disease-resistant. The 'cone' is the protruding center of the daisylike mid- and late-summer daisylike flowers; in fall and winter, the seeds in the cone feed birds. Echinacea purpurea, purple coneflower, which has lavender flowers and with orange centers, is the garden favorite. But a recent breeding explosion has led to flowers in white, magenta, orange and yellow and some truly weird shapes. Not all the recent developments are as sturdy as the original species, but "some of the newer hybrids are wonderfully fragrant," says Jan Little, who heads the Plant Clinic at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle (www.mortonarb.org). Kevin McGowen, product development and education specialist at Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles, likes a tough, compact hybrid echinacea, Pixie Meadowbrite. Where to plant: In full sun and (yup, you guessed it) well-drained soil. Dig in plenty of compost when you plant. Water weekly for the first year. Achilles' heel: Can't tolerate soil that stays wet.
Warren Skalski, Chicago Tribune