Summer Sky

'Summer Sky'
Purple Coneflower

"A path across the meadow fair & sweet,
Still sweet & fair where blooms & grasses meet,
A path worn smooth by his reluctant feet.
A long, straight path, & at its end, a gate
Behind whose bars she doth in silence wait
To keep the tryst, if he come soon or late!"

-Julia Caroline Ripley Dorr

In the great rush of new coneflower cultivars that began to arise in the new millennium, many hasty introductions were decent enough perennials, but not really any great improvement over old standards.

Summer SkyThe profitability of so many look-alikes is partly the fault of echinacea fans such as myself who can look at something with a new name, realize it's not that distinct an appearance, but even so can't pass it up.

Echinacea purpurea 'Summer Sky' was one of the Big Sky series of introductions from the Saul Brothers' Itsaul Plants. 'Summer Sky' is its registered trademark name, & the actual cultivar name is 'Katie Saul.' It's shown here with Achillea x 'Moonlight' in the background.

Like other early Saul releases that weren't really that color-stable, 'Summer Sky' isn't necessarily predictable for color & appearance. It is supposed to be reddish peach with petals darkening toward the orange cone, initially marketed as the first bicolor echinacea. Ours shows no bicolor trait whatsoever, though it is rather random which shade it will be as each new bloom develops.

The cone at least really is orange. The petals will be anywhere from pinkish-purple to reddish-orange, & don't age well in bright sun, getting washed out to no very good color at all (which may be why one honest catalog decided to describe it as "yellow, orange, glowing deep pink or white," covering all bases, the "white" being the sun-faded wreck).

Another catalog called it "multi color" not because individual blooms are reliable with multiple shades, but because it's much too unstable to promise any one look.

Further, in the quest for scented coneflowers it even boasts, in its marketing gambit if not in reality, of being perfumed. You may, if you add a bit of imagination to the effort, detect a scent of vanilla & straw so faint as to scarcely qualify.

So if you plant this with other Itsaul releases - say, 'Sunset,' 'Sundown' & 'Summer Sky' all in the same sun-garden - mark well which is which, as you won't be able to tell which is which by their overlapping variations of appearance. Said to be hardy for zones 4 through 9, 6 through 8 is more likely. It is slower than most echinaceas to get established & at some risk of being lost over its first winter.

I shouldn't give the impression it's an unpleasant perennial, however, even though if you're not quite as crazy as me about wanting every cultivar you can lay hands on, you'll find many as nice as this one, with greater individuality. Though it's not as distinct as it should've been for an aggressively marketed "new" variety, it is nevertheless rewarding, & can even be quite fun waiting to see what color next bloom may become.

With moderately moist soil that drains very sharply, & not too wet during winter dormancy, it'll be a bigger clump with each successive year, & is capable of excellent performance. Blooms can be as much as five inches across, certainly more than three inches. Flower stems are very upright, two or three feet tall, never tipping.

Continue to:
'Twilight' Echinacea

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