There is only one flower used in the age-old “love me, love me not” petal plucking tradition of childhood. It is the daisy, the signature of the composite family where all flowers share the same structure. The form is the most advanced, which is why it’s often the last family in botany books organized from primitive to more evolved species.
Three North American daisy-bearing plants have proven themselves time and again as the most vigorous, floriferous and appealing to pollinators in our gardens. Hardy to zone 3, they constitute the trilogy of species that every new gardener should strive to recognize because they are the most basic perennials. All live a long time, yield many new free plants and produce seed you can save for large-scale planting next year.
GAILLARDIA ARISTATA, BLANKETFLOWER, WESTERN U.S.
You’ll see this perennial wildflower in the dry western states where it has become popular color in the arid zone gardens there. Though the species itself is modest, there are more super-looking varieties of this perennial than any other. A number of named varieties bring bright sunset colors into droughty landscapes. This plant is attractive to gold finches if flowers are left to form seed.
ECHINACEA PURPUREA, PURPLE CONEFLOWER, EASTERN U.S.
The large magenta pink flowers of this eastern wildflower drop their petals after pollination, maturing into a sparkling cone that holds maturing seed, hence the name. Adapted to regions of summer rainfall, this is an exceptional plant that may naturalize there, or when irrigated they thrive further west. Elegant yet tough, this beauty is adapted to prairies and wayside places where it prefers full sun, well-drained soils and moderate moisture. Modern varieties offer orange and white flowers but these plants may not be as large or vigorous as the native.
RUDBECKIA HIRTA, BLACK-EYED SUSAN, CENTRAL U.S.
Often called “gloriosa” daisy, this yellow perennial has big brown centers that look like an eye. It can be found in nearly every state as a wildflower where unique, naturally colored blooms evolved into new varieties. It grows quickly from seed so these natives came into pioneer gardens. Rudbeckia can become short lived in certain climates where it’s treated as an annual.
For success this season, buy these perennials in one-gallon pots so they are big and bold in year one. Choose the ones best suited to your region and experiment with others to see if they work well too. This gives a new gardener plants large enough to study and learn from close inspection as they go through their annual cycle.
They aren’t fussy about fertility. Simply add some compost to your soil and plant as you would any seasonal annual. Provide a thick mulch layer around each one to keep roots cool and maintain more consistent soil moisture. All thrive under drip irrigation or micro spray where it’s too dry to survive on rain.
As the season passes be prompt in clipping off the flowers as soon as they wilt so new ones are encouraged to form. When blooming slows, allow the last flowers to remain and go to seed so birds will come to feed. Lost seed also allows plants to self sow in your garden if conditions are right.
As new gardeners put down the iPhone and get their hands in the soil, it’s time to get back to the basics which create the foundation of future gardening endeavors. Consider these vigorous daisies the optimal gateway plants capable of driving passion for natural beauty and native species. Give them as gifts to inspire and encourage the love of native plants. Share divisions of your own plants with younger neighbors. And with newfound knowledge of the Compositae, teach your own children why the daisy is so advanced with amazing science behind the “love me, love me not” petal plucking tradition.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.