'Mac 'n' Cheese' Coneflower

"Suppose," said grandmother, "that as you helped, you found out something else: that in each of you, say, where your heart is, or where your breath is, there was a flower trying to blossom through! And that only as you help the earth flower to blossom could your flower blossom."

Mary Elizabeth added longingly: "Wouldn't it be fun if it was true?"

"It is true," said grandmother.

from "When I Was a Little Girl"
by Zona Gale

Very pretty at its best, there are even so a few bad things that can be said of Echinacea purpurea x paradoxa 'Mac n Cheese.' First, it has one of the most ill-considered cultivar names of all time; as well to call it 'Velveeta' or 'Cheetos,' evoking junk food rather than the fine thing a flower should be.

Second, when Echinaceas are bred to be yellower & yellower, they come out looking like Rudbeckia, losing some of their individuality. Nevertheless, this is the yellowest yellow Echinacea yet to be seen, so hard to resist if you're in a "collect 'em all" mood for coneflowers.

I'm a sucker for the new Echinacea introductions that have been coming at us a few each year for a few years. 'Mac n Cheese' certainly does have that color of cheap-ass cheese with a lot of food dye in it, kind of in-your-face color-crayon or school bus yellow. Even the big "hedgehog" cone at the center of the petals is yellow-quilled.

EchinaceaI didn't get one immediately upon its release because of the stupid name. "That one's macaroni & cheese," was not a something I could enjoy saying to anyone who asked.

But shouldn't blame a plant for a terrible marketing name. I've met people who won't plant lungworts because it sounds like warts on lungs. So eventually I broke down & bought just one 'Mac 'n' Cheese,' during a big sale on all echinaceas including overpriced new releases.

The large green leaves are very compact & the entire clump seems never quite to reach two feet tall. Developed by Terra Nova in Pacific Northwest conditions, 'Mac 'n' Cheese' is ideal for zones 6 through 8. Although advertised to be suited in zones 4 to 9, I'd wager that'd take considerable precautions at the extremes.

Here in Zone 8 a mature clump blooms in July (but potentially in June), big blossoms over four inches across. With deadheading or if taking cuttings for long-lasting bouquets, 'Mac n Cheese' will rebloom up to October. It wants regular watering, ultra-good drainage, allowed to nearly dry out between waterings.

The new millium's Echinacea hybrids are frequently rushed to market without proper field-testing. Which ones are really strong in the garden has to be figured out by gardeners in what sometimes feels like a buyer-beware environment. The pretty pictures on tags might not always be what you end up with in actuality. And 'Mac 'n' Cheese' does seem to have some issues, though with fingers crossed I'm hoping not insurmountable ones.

Its first year in the ground, an adult plant won't for-sure be winter-hardy & might be lost. It is also more difficult than most echinaceas to raise from plugs (starts) placed right in the garden without cold-framing first. Terra Nova acknowledges this difficulty, & recommends picking off the flower buds & not permitting it to bloom its first year if you have only a small plant.

So it's worth obtaining a gallon-pot well matured example. Early reports griped that it is one of the least hardy of the new cultivars, so I placed ours in a higher-care sun-garden without risking it to one of the gardens full of plants that can be ignored. Gotta wait for next year to see if I have better luck than some have reported. I started with an adult plant & the complainers started with plugs.

Being practically a dwarf for height (but not in flower size), it has none of the lodging difficulties of very tall tippy echinaceas & rudbeckias or sunflowers, though some may regard it as stunted. In any collection of echinaceas for the open garden, it'll belong near the front, so that three to five footers won't be hiding it.

In containers it will need very occasional fertilizing, but in the open sun-garden, all it needs is a thin winter mulching of composted manure, & that's to insure a fairly high pH the following spring. This plant will die if pH levels plummet in used-up worn-out or potashed soils.

Its second year, it should be much more hardier, somewhat drought-hardy but not nearly as much so as the old standard echinaceas, so don't press the issue. I've lost a few of these new hybrids by testing them in xeric gardens, & they just don't go for it, though being too wet can harm them just as much.

Terra Nova released this cultivar in tandem with the similarly name-afflicted Echinacea hybrida 'Tomato Soup,' an intense red for extreme contrast to the yellow. I guess we should count ourself lucky they didn't name it 'Blood Pudding 'n' Kidney Pie.'

I'm expecting both these cultivars to be in the marketplace only transiently, as hardier versions of 'Mac 'n' Cheese' will inevitably come along to displace it, plus by their ugly-ass names alone Velveeta & Blood Pudding are bound to fall by the wayside, as also should the employee at Terra Nova who came up with that marketing gambit.

Continue to:
'Doubledecker' Echinacea

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