"Lovers looked for special boonsEchinacea purpurea x paradoxa 'Sunset' has large flowers up to six inches across, bright magenta to red-orange hues, with a henna-brown cone, & allegedly a faint honey scent though I can't smell it.
In brighter flowers & larger moons."
-Henry Timrod (1828-1867)
When first introduced into the nursery trade, it was one of the most unique & beautiful hybrid coneflowers, though soon followed year by year by more great cultivars. 'Sunset' was the very first orange-shaded echinacea developed by the Saul Brothers of ItSaul Plants, who would soon produce a second orangish coneflower, Echinacea x 'Sundown,' not consequentially different from 'Sunset.'
Although 'Sunset' has larger flowers than 'Sundown,' the new version is evidently more vigorous when being grown for market, so that 'Sunset' seems to be disappearing from the marketplace.
As the very first orange echinacea cultivar in the market, it has quite an historical position, & all the early patents for new oranges were using 'Sunset' as the standard of comparison.
If it does eventually vanish from growers' stocks, as seems likely, it'll be a bit of a tragedy. 'Sunset' being shorter with bigger blooms than 'Sundown' should've kept the earlier cultivar popular.
They're enough alike, however, that some distributors have been rather slipshod keeping the names distinct, & I remember all too well a shipment to a local nursery of what was probably 'Sundown' with about half the gallon pots having 'Sunset' tags in them, because the distributor was either chary of wasting old tags, or really didn't regard 'Sundown' as distinct.
New echinacea introductions have been coming at us hand-over-fist & the "shake out" of which become standards for decades to come, & which fade into mere memory, will have as much to do with how well they keep in sales pots as with their lovability in our gardens.
'Sunset's' depth of orange is perhaps more variable than 'Sundown,' not as reliably orange-red for every bloom during its long season (July to October), though I've not found either one of them particularly stable. These photos snapped in September & October capture the variability of 'Sunset.'
Sadly after four hardy & thrilling years with just the one clump of 'Sunset,' we had a record-setting rainy winter, & the clump rotted out of its location. I thought surely it was a complete goner, seeing no sign of it through early summer (of 2009).
I hoped I can replace it, but locally only 'Sundown' was being offered, & 'Sunset' was nowhere available. Happily, & unexpectedly, at the tail-end of July (in 2009), the rotted-out 'Sunset' reappeared as a very few large leaves, struggling to recover. I carefully dug it up & transplanted it to a well cared for raised bed, & it began to bush out as a nice leafy clump. It should be back in full flower next year.
I have several clumps of 'Sunset,' as it has become one of the cheaper fancy echinaceas in mass production, & they were practically giving them away out in front of a drugstore. I see that 'Sunset' is thus far still available in some mail order catalogs, so hopefullywise it'll be around a while yet. And I said "hopefullywise" to drive the Mrs. Grundies out of their minds.
'Summer Sky' Echinacea
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