Native Son – October, 2007

Purple Coneflower: Native Plant Road Trip to Cleburne

The clock just rolled over 3 a.m., and my body is tired but my brain is restless, so here I am, writing to you from my little bench/table that I got from a nice furniture-making Amish family just outside Lancaster , PA . (You guessed it – I was on one of my road trips at the time.) Eleven years and a lot of miles between that moment and this, between those nights (not so) long ago when my brown hair hit the pillow and contentedly stayed there, to these evenings, when my ruffled salt-and-pepper hair floats atop a groggy bear wandering around the house half the night.

I’ve spent many hours on the road exploring this great country of ours—from Friday Harbor , Washington to Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina —and have loved almost every minute of it. The faces, expressions, and stories of the people I’ve met along the way constantly swim through my conscious and subconscious mind; they have become a part of me.

None of these people were any finer than the folks who greeted me when I went to give a presentation down in Cleburne. Ben Oefinger and Garey Wylie showed me around town and toured me through some great gardens. We laughed and joked and talked plants and waxed philosophical most of the afternoon … perhaps too much, for I was pretty worn out by the time I gave my talk.

Ben’s garden was simply designed, diversely planted, and charmingly appointed – just the way I like a garden to be. From the small pool to clematis-draped arch to the comfy porch, it exudes a feeling not unlike running your hand gently between the ears of an old dog; simple, real, and earthy. Ben grew a big ole pipevine (I’m guessing Aristolochia macrophylla) on a trellis specifically for the purpose of providing a host plant for swallowtail butterflies, whose caterpillars were performing a spectacular feeding frenzy during my visit.

Dead center in the garden is a spectacular swath of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Four-inch-wide blooms of pinkish-purple petals set around orange “beehive” cones sway in the gentle breeze atop stiff, bristly stems, all arising from a lush tangle of leaves borne in overlapping rosettes. Native throughout the eastern and central plains areas of the United States , purple coneflower has become one of the most recognizable emblems among native plant societies in these regions. (I remember writing for the Coneflower Courier when I was involved in the Collin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, aka NPSOT.)

Easy to grow and a magnet for butterflies, purple coneflower is one of the first plants I recommend for children, novices and gardeners new to Texas . While not particular about soils or watering, it does appreciate a drink or two during hot, dry spells. Like many plants in the Aster family (Asteraceae), it actually has two different kinds of flowers: ray flowers are the showy petals, and disk flowers are packed into the cone. Eco-savvy gardeners will harvest and save these spent cones in bundles, to hang outside in wintertime to feed the birds, particularly finches.

Many different species of Echinacea exist, and plant breeders have developed several white and double-flowered forms. Five native species are listed in BRIT’s The Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas, including pale-petaled E. angustifolia, which some herbalists say has the strongest medicinal qualities.

Say…a cup of herbal tea might do the trick for my insomnia. The clock now says 4:38 a.m., which presents me with another little dilemma: Should I brew the herbal tea or just get the coffee going?

About the author: Steven L. Chamblee is Chief Horticulturist at Chandor Garden in Weatherford. He is also a contributing editor to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine, where his writing appears each issue. For more information, visit

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, AMERICA! Nothing says love like planting a tree or teaching a child. Grow yourself some shade and make some memories at the same time. You’ll always remember that you planted that tree on July 4.

Come out to Chandor Gardens and see us sometime. Just take I-20 west to exit 409, hang a right, go 2.1 miles and hang a left on Lee Avenue . Head straight twelve blocks and you’re driving in the gates. Call 817-361-1700 to let us know you’re coming and we’ll light the incense and show you around. You can always go to for a picture tour and more information.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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