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Black-eyed Susans

If I were allowed to choose what flower I could become, I know almost immediately
what I would be. I would choose the one I enjoy cutting for arrangements as much
as I enjoy growing in my garden: the black-eyed Susan.

As a child, it seemed like I spent hours enjoying and picking flowers. It still
holds true for me today. I have this long narrow space along the fence by the
swing set in my garden where I insist that everything planted there must have
flowers that I can cut and arrange. I prefer to arrange my flowers in an old canning
or jelly jar filled with water. I guess habits learned at an early age are hard
to give up. No fancy oasis or containers for me, just the flowers arranged simply
by hand.

Perennial colonies

While there are just over 30 species of rudbeckia-commonly called black-eyed Susans
or orange coneflower-found in North America, only a few are well-known. The perennial
forms have been more widely available and used, but annual varieties are quickly
gaining in popularity in our modern-day gardens.

The most common perennial form available is Rudbeckia fulgida. Known for quickly
colonizing an area, it is still not considered invasive and in fact is quite easy
to control in the garden. They prefer a moist area in full sun but are noted for
being tolerant of a partially shaded garden spot. Native forms can be seen growing
in small clumps or in great colonies in moist meadow areas. Rudbeckia fulgida
var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ was selected as the perennial plant of the year in
1999. It was selected for its tolerance of dry clay soils and its long bloom sequence.
It is a perfect match for many gardeners in our area. Its golden-yellow flowers
begin blooming in July and continue on until sometimes late August. It is particularly
stunning when planted in large drifts where space is available.

Annual varieties

Because I have a smaller yard I have become particularly fond of the annual varieties,
Rudbeckia hirta ‘Marmalade,’ ‘Rustic Colors,’ and ‘Indian Summer.’ Depending on
the cultivar, petal colors can range from yellow to golden-orange, bronze, and
even brown. Indian Summer has bright yellow petals with black disc flowers and
has shown particular promise in my garden: I have found it to be more resistant
to powdery mildew and rust than the other annual varieties I have grown. Its flowers
are particularly showy when cut and placed in a vase all alone or in an arrangement
with others. The flowers are quite numerous on Indian Summer so I don’t feel guilty
cutting them frequently. If you have trouble finding transplants, consider ordering
the seed; the annual varieties are relatively easy to start.

If you are looking for something a little taller than 2 feet for your garden,
you may want to try Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstonne,’ the shining coneflower. It
has sulfur-yellow petals with green disc flowers and can reach heights of 4 to
5 feet with ease. This variety blooms in late September and early October in our
area and is like a ray of sunshine for the fall garden.

Paired plantings

Both annual and perennial varieties look great in combination with ornamental
grasses, blue or red salvia, or Russian sage, and even perform well in containers
on the porch or patio. Great perennials, showy annuals, and excellent cut flowers
are good reasons to give one of the black-eyed Susans a try in your garden this

As I drive to work each day I pass a house with a large planting of perennial
black-eyed Susans alongside a beautiful 4-foot-high brick wall adjacent to the
house. It is a very busy street and I am quite certain the owners can’t see their
planting from the house, but what a wonderful gift for the thousands of cars that
pass by it daily. No matter how hectic my morning has been, I always slow down
as I pass by during July and August when it is in full bloom, and my day seems
so much brighter. One day I am going to stop and say thank you to the gardener
I have never met who makes me smile.


Tall, 4-8′: Miscanthus sinensis, Maidenhair.

Try Morning Light, Saraband, Silberfeder

Medium, 3-5′: Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass.

Try Prairie Sky, Heavy Metal

Small, 1-3′, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Fountain Grass.

Try Hameln, Little Bunny

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