Two Daisies to Know and Grow

As new plants are introduced into the marketplace we often lose sight of some of yesterdays reliable performers. That is due in no small part to the declining number of retail and wholesale nurseries nationwide and the pressure on available display space in those that remain. Just like you, I enjoy experimenting with new varieties but I make sure to leave room for two of my favorite daisies that have proven drought tolerant, low maintenance, deer-resistant and largely rabbit-resistant. Both are commonly referred to as fleabane and are two species of Erigeron, one being native to the United States and the other to Mexico.

What's in a name?

The common name fleabane is derived from the belief that they drive away fleas when burned or dried and stored in sachets, although there is little evidence to support this. The genus Erigeron translates to "old man", referring to the fuzzy white seed heads.

Santa Barbara Daisy

The diminutive Santa Barbara daisy creates a froth of delicate rose-tinged blooms at the front of a border in my garden

Reminiscent of the daisies found in the lawns of our childhood, Santa Barbara daisy, (Erigeron karvinskianus) is native to Mexico despite its misleading common name. The variety you are most likely to find is Profusion.

Why I like it

  • Deer-resistant
  • Drought tolerant
  • Rabbit -resistant (although an initial spritz with a repellent in early spring may be needed)
  • Evergreen in mild climates, or returns from the crown after colder winters
  • Blooms all summer
  • No deadheading needed

How to use it

Santa Barbara daisy used as a groundcover beneath espaliered trees at Newby Hall, Yorkshire, UK

Growing just 6-8" tall, this petite daisy is perfect for a weed-smothering carpet beneath taller shrubs and trees. Since the roots are fairly shallow its presence isn't detrimental to neighboring plants.

Haddon Hall, Derbyshire UK, where Santa Barbara daisy has been allowed to self-seed with abandon

The gauzy froth of tiny daisies is the perfect counterpoint to hard surfaces such as stone steps and walls. It readily self-seeds in cracks and crevices to create a charming billowing haze of blooms. It is equally effective in between flagstones set within a patio or pathway where it will tolerate light foot traffic. 

Santa Barbara daisy mingling with hardy geraniums at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK

Consider allowing Santa Barbara daisy to mingle with gentle companions such as blue hardy geraniums. The photo above shows a backdrop of pale pink hydrangeas completing the vignette. Such an easy trio to copy.

Color echoes – perfect! Stellenbosch, South Africa

Use the colors of the daisy to inspire you. I spotted this haze of pink and white daisies alongside an old tiled walkway while we were visiting a garden in South Africa. The juxtaposition of hard and soft together with the color echoes between plants and hardscape had me down on my hands and knees for a closer look. One final idea I don't have a photograph for is to use it at the edge of container gardens in summer, perhaps instead of bacopa. Have you used it this way? I'd love you to share a photo with me!

How to grow it

USDA zones 5a-10a Full sun or partial sun Average soil Low water once established Grows 6-8" tall (but older plants may billow upwards to 12" with support) and spreads 2-3 feet wide Evergreen in mild climates Attracts bees and butterflies

Where to buy it

Try your independent garden centers first (they need our support). It may be stocked in the groundcover section or with sunny perennials. Remember that nurseries may not bring this in for a few more weeks, depending upon your climate. Or order online e.g. Plant Delights   or grow from seed.

Lynnhaven Carpet

A carpet of spring blooming Lynnhaven Carpet fleabane in my garden

My second pick is native to the United States, having first been found in Virginia. Robin's fleabane (Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus 'Lynnhaven Carpet') is less well known but equally garden worthy. I was given a single 4" pot as a sample almost ten years ago. It has since spread into a dense carpet of grey-green fleshy rosettes topped with pale lavender flowers every spring.

Why I like it

  • Drought tolerant
  • Deer-resistant
  • Rabbit resistant
  • Spreads slowly to create a dense carpet
  • Evergreen in mild climates, semi-evergreen after harsh winters
  • Easy to remove plants if they spread too far
  • Blooms for several weeks in May (in my garden).
  • Remaining foliage is a good groundcover

How to use it

In my zone 6b Duvall, WA garden this is thriving in full sun and moisture retentive soil but in hotter climates it may benefit from dappled shade during the afternoons. Beneath a deciduous tree seems ideal. Give it room to spread as I think it looks best en masse rather than repeating smaller clumps.

Lynnhaven carpet blooming in May beneath a Japanese maple in my garden

How to grow it

USDA zones 3-8 Full sun to partial shade Average soil Low water once established Grows 12-15" tall and spreads by runners. (Plant them 2 feet apart for a quick carpet effect) Evergreen (although mine got blackened by the recent ice storm, new foliage has already emerged and disguised the damage). Deadheading isn't necessary but I usually shear the flowering stalks when seedheads form to tidy them up.

Where to buy

Please ask at your local nursery for this as several wholesalers do grow it! Remember that retail nurseries may not stock it quite yet – it will depend largely on your local climate. Otherwise try online: Growing Wild Nursery, Putnam Hill Nursery, Keeping it Green Nursery (great photo of foliage), Digging Dog Nursery

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I'm a serious plant-aholic. In other words I'm usually covered in a layer or two of soil, I drive everywhere with a large tarp for impromptu plant purchases and I'm truly passionate about sharing the joys of gardening.

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