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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rudbeckia fulgida - Black Eyed Susan

One of the most well known perennials is the Black Eyed Susan. The only problem is, which black eyed susan do you have? You see, this is the problem with using nicknames instead of the botanical name of a plant.

Most often, the nickname Black Eyed Susan is referring to Rudbeckia fulgida. There are many different types of Rudbeckia, fulgida is a true perennial, ranging anywhere from 2 feet to almost 3 feet tall (under a meter).

If you look beyond the cheerful blooms you will see just how ratty the foliage looks at this time of year.

Still, ratty foliage or not, Rudbeckia fulgida is a highly valuable plant in the garden. First of all, it has a wonderfully long blooms season for a perennial. It begins blooming mid July or so around here and is still blooming strongly the first week of September.

Another thing I really like about Rudbeckia fulgida is that at this time of year it invites flocks of Goldfinch to the garden. They love to eat the seed heads so I don't remove those dead blooms.

You must keep in mind that if the birds are eating the seed heads, they are also scattering many of them about in the garden. Rudbeckia fulgida self sows itself all over the place. Not enough to be considered invasive but I'm sure I've given away or sold at least 500 plants in the last 7 years.
Another type of Rudbeckia that is fairly popular right now is the German hybrid Rudbeckia nitida 'Herbstsonne' (that means autumn sun). This type of Rudbeckia can grow as tall as 6 feet (two meters) and will flop about a bit if it's in an open, windy location.

It took me awhile to find the right place for 'Herbstsonne' but now I'm thrilled with it growing by the Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus' (porcupine grass) and Eupatorium maculatum 'Gateway' (joe pye weed).

This summer I had a few Rudbeckia volunteers pop up in my herb garden. They aren't either of the above two types so I'm not sure of the variety.

There are also types of Rudbeckia that are annuals and I've grown them in containers in this garden so these might be seedlings from them. Then again, maybe the goldfinch dropped off the seed for me as a thank you for all the food I've provided them over the year.

What ever this variety is, I find it chamring with it's shorter, more blunt petals.

How many types of Rudbeckia do you grow in your garden?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

A few years ago (most likely 4 years ago) I purchased a plant that I knew nothing about. It was in a large pot, at least 1.5 gallons. The tag read Helenium 'Mardi Gras' and since I knew my garden didn't have enough late summer/early autumn blooms, I thought I'd give this one a try.

'Mardi Gras' has done more than I ever expected. It grew quickly although not at all aggressivly. It never flopped, it had wonderful colors in the blooms (as promised on the tag) and most importantly, it passed the division test.

This past spring my clump of Helenium 'Mardi Gras' had grown large enough that I felt I could take a chance and divide it. I simply dug it out of the ground the last week of April and cut it into pieces with my root knife. Those pieces were planted out in different parts of the garden where they took off growing as if nothing had happened to them.

You can see here in this less than artistic photo that Helenium 'Mardi Gras' stands upright. Not one of the newly planted pieces has flopped and every one of them is chock full of blooms right now.

Looking through some gardening catalogues I see there are other varieties of Helenium too. I think it's high time I add some more of these great perennials to my garden.

As a final note, I chose to post about this plant today specifically because Hurricane 'Gustav' is hammering the Gulf coast. My thoughts and prayers are with all the folks in the path of this storm.