Hello Susan

My intention this spring was to keep the front yard a little more organized and really put my foot down against the reseeders which took over last summer….. but then the rest of the world happened and just like many good intentions my organization theme fell to the wayside.  This year rudbeckias took over.

gloriosa daisies rudbeckia

Rudbeckias, black eyed Susans, gloriosa daisies, whatever you want to call them these rudbeckia hirta hybrids really bring gold to the front border.  Fyi this is as far along the bed as the edging and mulching got this spring.  You can see my spade handle just where I left it about two months ago 🙂 

For as much as I like the softer yellows, and for as summery a tint golden yellow is, bright gold is probably one of my least favorite flower colors.  The golden takeover of the front garden really goes against any design theory I have for this bed and I suppose if I were of the more controlling type it would cause me a little mental turmoil but I think I’m ok with the brightness.  It helps bring a little sun to what’s so far been a pretty wet and ‘pearly’ summer.

rudbeckia hirta gloriosa daisy perennial bed

The front border with plenty of rudbeckias.  I was firm with seedlings of amaranth, standing cypress, and oxeye daisies but this year the black eyed Susans slipped by.

A casual passerby might think things look well under control and maybe even close to well tended, but just inside the bed turmoil reigns.  Here the inner section was supposed to be a restful patch of dark leaves canna…. which it’s not… because too many ‘good enough’ plants came up and the gardener just didn’t have the heart to pull them out.  It worked out for the best though, the variety of green centered and brown eyed rudbeckia which grew is a nice tradeoff (as long as you can continue to ignore the unplanted cannas sitting on the driveway).

mixed annual rudbeckia plantings

Mixed shades of selfsown rudbeckia seedlings. 

There used to be a greater variety of darker shades mixed in with the straight gold daisies but over the last few years I’ve tended to pull the browned eyed versions.  They seem more prone to mildew in my garden and rather than look at that I just pull them and send them to the compost before their seed ripens.

mixed perennial border

A more ‘refined’ view of the border.  Less is surely more with these bright colors but to be honest the patches where the rudbeckia grows and blooms thickest are the patches which make me smile 🙂

A week or two ago would have been a good time to seed out a few zinnias to fill in for when I get tired of the fading rudbeckias but all the rain seems to have drowned my seedling tray, so we’ll see what happens now.  Fortunately there are always volunteers willing to step up.  Here are a few sunflowers coming along (in a totally inappropriate spot) and I know a few verbena bonariensis seedlings could be found elsewhere.

sunflower seedlings

The future sunflower patch.  Goldfinches have already been stopping by but they’ve got a few more weeks to wait before this seed factory starts up.

The entire border hasn’t been given over to gold.  Here’s a now classic combination of Perovskia, Echinacea, and ‘Karl Foerster” feather reed grass made famous back in the ’90s by the Washington DC based design team of Oehme, Van Sweden.  They were one of the pioneers in publicizing the ‘New American’ prairie style planting style which moved American design away from lawns and English style gardens to a more relaxed look filled with lower maintenance swaths of color and forms which sway in the summer breeze.

Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting

My Oehme, van Sweden inspired planting of ‘Karl Foerster’ grass, coneflowers, and Russian sage.

Coneflowers also anchor the far end of the bed, and the golden rudbeckias haven’t quite conquered this far down the line.

morning light perennial border

This end of the border is were my enthusiasm for weeding and maintenance always wears a little thin.  As long as the lawn stays mowed and the edges get trimmed I think the weeds and lack of deadheading aren’t quite so noticeable.

The black eyes Susans which grow in this front border are nearly all the tetraploid version of America’s native Rudbeckia hirta, and for plant geeks such as myself the history of these plants is one of those cool wintertime stories which make gardening just that much more interesting.  A version of the story can be found by clicking here, but the short summertime summary involves Dr. Blakeslee of Massachusetts’s Smith College treating seed of the native rudbeckia with the genetics altering chemical colchicine and doubling their chromosome count.  Eventually David Burpee got a hold of the new race of flowers and set his company to work refining and selecting for more colors and forms, and in 1957 introduced the plants as we know them today.  The tetraploid version is bright and big and bold, but the normal diploid Rudbeckia hirta still has its fans for its daintier, summertime wildflower look.

rudbeckia hirta quilled petals

A straight Rudbeckia hirta which showed up in the back garden.  I like the spoon shaped petals on this one and hopefully can save a few seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta comes in two basic forms, the regular and the larger tetraploid version.  They’re both short lived perennials which may bloom the first year or may die after blooming, depending on their mood, but they’re both far from troublesome.  Don’t get this Susan mixed up with the truly perennial, clump forming Rudbeckia fulgida which is just starting to come into bloom now.  This one (usually grown as the ‘Goldsturm’ version, another Oehm,Van Sweden favorite as well as Karl Foerster introduction) is another indestructible rudbeckia but for me it’s just too much of a perennial commitment to gold 🙂

rudbeckia hirta light yellow

Another wild rudbeckia hirta which I’m keeping an eye on out back.  It’s a lighter yellow shade with a spidery inward curl to the petals (which often shows up in the darker ones as well).  I like it! 

So there you have it, the glory of gloriosa daisies in the garden of a gardener who doesn’t like gold.  Some will surely point out that I’m in gold loving denial, but daisies and gold are completely common and unrefined and I’m going to try and claim it was against my will and better taste that they took over this summer.  Either that or I just don’t care what good taste and garden trends dictate!

Enjoy summer 🙂

32 comments on “Hello Susan

  1. Deep down, everyone loves Rudbeckias. That’s why your borders all look great. I only grow R. fulgida and R. triloba (is that what you were referring to when you said the brown-eyed susans?). The Perovski/Echinacea/’Karl Foerster” combo may be classic, but I am incapable of growing it. Looks perfect in your garden, though.

    • bittster says:

      Triloba is one which I have yet to grow. When I said brown eyed I was referring to a few of the hirta seed strains which I first started out with which had large brown centers… they were probably an ‘autumn colors’ strain or something. In my garden these would end the summer covered in mildew while the others were still clean, so even though I love the variety I’ve been losing them.
      Perovskia was always a weak mess for me when I was gardening around trees. In my experience it needs all day full sun in order to live up to it’s potential. Was that the problem child of your combo?
      -also have you see the ‘prairie glow’ triloba? That’s one I’m on the lookout for!

      • I’d definitely give R. triloba a go. It has a unique look, I think, for Rudbeckia. Haven’t heard of ‘Prairie Glow’ but sounds nice.

  2. mattb325 says:

    For something that is self-sown, it looks really wonderful! As you say, seeing Rudbekia in bloom does bring a smile 🙂

  3. I hear you on the gold thing – I, too, am a “soft-spoken colors” person. However, I’ve often toyed with the idea of creating a completely hot colors planting…. But it would have to be in its own corner of the garden and not visible from anywhere else, LOL

    Everything looks so amazingly lush and lovely! I like your “fancy-petal” R. hirta seedlings especially; they are Audrey Hepburn rather than Lauren Bacall. 😉

    • Christina says:

      I do think that colour also depends on where in the world you live and how strong the sunlight is. I loved pastels when I gardened in England but here in Italy those colour said just look washed out and faded, but strong colours are softened and look perfect.

      • bittster says:

        Christina that’s an excellent point. Unless they’re backed by a thick, dark green background and the flowers have some size to them, pale pinks and other pastels are just lost when the stronger sunlight comes out. I was thinking about your sunflower photos from last year and that would be a perfect example, they’re so bright that even on a hazy morning or hot day they stand up to all the strong sunlight, diffused or direct. -oh and the California poppies as well!
        Pale lavenders still seem to work though. Maybe because they’re so much a part of the landscape and echo the sky?

      • Christina says:

        Yes you could well be right about the pale blues although in duller light the colours even of those is stronger.

    • bittster says:

      hah hah, I always liked Lauren Bacall, maybe deep down inside I really am a rudbeckia person!
      As I think about it though, nearly everything I’ve planted recently has been bold and there hasn’t been a single pale pink. The colors are all saturated reds and hot pinks and cobalt blues…. pale yellow has been the only exception since ‘moonshine’ achillea is a nearly perfect look in my opinion 🙂
      I tried to plant a bold red border a few years ago and it’s been abused and neglected ever since. I should really get on it!
      We can go bold together 🙂

  4. Pretty, but they do that. Once had a variety and now mostly the Rudbeckia in the side bed.

    • bittster says:

      That’s why I’ve removed the ‘goldsturm’ type (R. fulgida). It’s a great perennial and solid performer year after year but I got tired of thinning it and keeping it under control. These seed grown ones are here today and maybe gone tomorrow and they suit my ADD, haphazard style much better!

  5. Christina says:

    Well I think the they look fantastic. A swathe of anything looks perfect irrespective of the colour and whether you think it is fashionable or not! Just go with what wants to grow on your conditions.

  6. bittster says:

    I wish I could take that advice in regards to my one delphinium. Each year it starts out amazing and then the first summer storm beats it to the ground, twisting and breaking stems. The rudbeckias never blink!
    Having them in a swathe does make a difference. I’ve been trying to do more to simplify the look of the beds, and repeating the colors (even less than favorite ones) really helps. There is such a collector’s mess in too many areas and I’m trying to push that into the backyard and spare the neighbors 🙂

  7. rusty duck says:

    They do look fantastic and I only wish I could grow them. They rarely get above the ground here before they are consumed by something. Echinacea the same. Enjoy!

    • bittster says:

      You have quite a few special flowers which I would gladly trade being able to grow my rudbeckias for! They and the echinaceas really seem to enjoy the poor dry soil in a way which many other plants do not.

  8. willisjw says:

    Well, we are required to grow Blackeyed Susans in the front yard since it is the state flower of Mayland. They seed vigorously and we have to keep pulling them out as they keep invading the space allocated to others, but I can’t imagine the garden without them. Yours look great too. In the backyard we have Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun’ which is only marginally hardy for us but reseeds as well. I think I see it or something similar in your garden bed. I think it’s a a lovely flower and I’m always happy to see it returning.

    • bittster says:

      Good eye! I do have ‘Prairie Sun’ children in there as well. I’m surprised they come true from seed even with all the other varieties around.
      My mother would be appalled by how many seedling I pull out and compost. They spread well here as well but I always have to leave bunches.

  9. I don’t care for R. fulgida all that much either. And in addition to being perennial, it will seed as well if you don’t deadhead it. That’s why you see it called ‘Goldsturm strain’. But I want to thank you for the link to the NYT article on R. hirta breeding. Had no idea most were tetraploid. And I love this quote from Allen Lacy’s article: “Every plant has a history, sometimes a fascinating one, and knowing it gives gardening an extra dimension of pleasure.”

    • bittster says:

      Absolutely true, it’s the histories and backgrounds which make some plants so special. The history can be from the gardens of George Washington or your grandmother, each is as special as the other!
      The r. fulgida is starting to open now as well. They’re nice enough but I have no problem at all ripping them up after bloom… and I’ll still have more next year I’m sure.

  10. Rudbeckias just scream , “Hello, it’s summer!” to me. I love them. I really love that spoon petaled one along with the one with the thin downward curving petals. Very cool!

  11. Annette says:

    I like the two last Rudbeckias a lot. What a cute shape the petals have! The first one is a bit similar to Henry Eilers which I’ve planted in my new border. Very delicate and pretty. Love the border where your passion for weeding faded, Frank 😉

    • bittster says:

      Isn’t it great when the garden surprises you with something new and unexpected?
      I thought of you when I saw how the picture came out. It has a tiny bit of the low lighting and misty look which you do so well!

  12. Is it early for Rudbeckia? I usually count on mine in late July, early August. I do agree with you about the bright gold–not my favorite, either. I’d rather see it in the fall. Even so, your border looks great! Hoping that one of these days I’ll get to see it in person!

    • bittster says:

      You’re welcome back any time!
      These are earlier (less perennial) rudbeckias. The clumping perennial kind (r. fulgida) are only just starting to open their first blooms.
      … and of course we’re usually far ahead of the Highlands 😉

  13. I have a vision of how each of my borders should look, but they never turn out the way I planned. Yours look well planned and well tended, Frank, even though you say otherwise. That spoon-shaped petal is new to me — interesting. I have no luck with rudbeckia, so envy yours. P. x

    • bittster says:

      Thank you Pam. Isn’t it funny how we are always our own worst critics? But I do wonder where all my efforts go sometimes. Probably should spend less time walking around looking at things and more time tying up loose ends!

  14. I am trying to put my foot down on the reseeders too….but no Susans in the front garden….you do have some beauties.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Donna, but I can’t really take much credit at all for these colorful freebies!
      Good luck on reigning in your seeders. The mulch has certainly helped a lot but there are always plenty of weeds which seem to come in under cover of darkness!

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