Black Eyed Susan
Hardiness zone range
3 - 9
Rugged, dependable, native North American perennials that have bold heads of large daisy-like flowers with prominent central cones, carried on strong, stiff stems above leafy clumps, from mid summer into autumn. They are vigorous, easy to grow plants, that are seldom troubled by any serious pests or diseases. These factors combine to take Rudbeckia right to the top of the pops when compiling a list of the most reliable garden plants.
Great in beds and borders or in island beds, where the big, bright flowers in shades of yellow and gold give a dazzling display. They can be placed in small groups, or even as individual specimens among other perennials, shrubs, or conifers.
The shorter types are wonderful when used en masse; in bold groupings, they make a spectacular show which is colorful, long lasting, and low maintenance.
Most have a high degree of heat and drought tolerance. They are deer resistant, attract butterflies when in flower, and the seed heads provide a valuable source of food for over-wintering birds. They make excellent cut flowers; the strong stems prominently display the blooms and make them easy to arrange. They should be cut early in the morning when the first flowers are beginning to open, and conditioned by standing in deep water for a few hours in a cool place before arranging.
Full sun, with a tolerance for partial shade.
Well known for their ease of culture, they will grow in all reasonably fertile soils except wet, soggy ones. They thrive best in soils that are well drained, but have a capacity to retain moisture in dry weather, so it is worth incorporating extra organic matter (compost, peat, etc.) at planting time, and then mulching the beds upon completion. They are strong growers, and when the clumps begin to become congested (after about 3 years), it is a good idea to lift and divide them. This helps to keep them strong and vigorous. Light dressings with a well balanced fertilizer applied in early spring also helps to keep them lush and healthy.
There are around 25-30 species of Rudbeckias, all native to N. America. The botanical name was given to them by Linnaeus (the father of modern taxonomy), who named them in honor of his teacher, Professor Olaf Rudbeck.
Several of the species have been cultivated and hybridized for centuries. The earliest records of cultivation date back to John Tradescant the elder, an English naturalist and collector, who subscribed to the Virginia Company. He had plants sent to him, which he then cultivated and entered in his garden list of 1634. The tall growing Rudbeckia lacinata was on the list of forty plants he grew.
It is not cultivated much today, but it is thought to be one of the parents of a fine German cultivar called R. `Autumn Sun' (Herbstonne).
Another excellent cultivar, R. `Goldsturm', also has German connections. It was propagated and introduced in 1949 by the famous German nurseryman and plant breeder, Karl Foerster. One of his employees, Heinrich Hagemann, noticed it growing in a nursery in the Czech Republic in 1937. Recognizing that it was a superior form, he convinced Foerster to include it in his introduction program. Foerster insisted on high standards. Before he would consent to introduce them, new plants had to be fully hardy, pest and disease resistant, non-invasive, and easy to maintain.
Rudbeckia `Goldsturm' (meaning "Gold storm") has all these qualities in abundance. It is not surprising that it has become one of the most popular and highly acclaimed perennials, named Perennial Plant of the Year in 1999.
If you enjoy growing your own cut flowers, set aside an area as a cutting garden and plant some Rudbeckias. They will reward you with many bunches of long lasting, big, golden daisies for years and years.
They blend nicely with the rich, coppery-bronze tones of Heleniums and the erect, architectural shape of grasses like Miscanthus, Pennisetums, or Phalaris. Hemerocallis (Daylilies) give similar vertical emphasis, but with colorful flowers; try them with the warm tones of H. `Magic Mandarin', Sombrero Way', or `Lusty Leyland'. Perovskia, the white Aster 'Snow Flurry' and Phlox `David' and the pale, lemony yellow of Coreopsis `Moonbeam' also make good planting partners.