Black-eyed susans were one of my favorite Ozark wildflowers. As a teen I not only pictured them in my wedding bouquet, but even planned my imaginary future wedding around them: bridesmaids in bright, cheerful yellow; groomsmen in deep chocolate brown. (For some reason, those imaginary wedding plans also included my little brother’s playing “Here Comes the Bride” on his baritone. But I digress.)
Legend says that the flowers were named in honor of an actual person. Their color makes me wonder if perhaps Susan of the gorgeous black eyes shared an ethnicity with the “Yellow Rose of Texas” . . . but if Susan truly existed, her identity and ethnicity have since been lost to time.
I still enjoy the contribution that black-eyed susans– officially rudbeckia– make to the late-summer garden. Here are a few that are blooming in my garden right now:
‘Henry Eilers,’ shown here and below, is a little over four feet tall and has narrow petals that sometimes open into spoon shapes at the tips. It is very long-blooming, making its presence felt in the garden from July until well into September.
The rudbeckia in the next photo came with our house when we purchased it twenty-six years ago . . . proof enough of its toughness and longevity! I think it is rudbeckia laciniata ‘Goldquelle,’ or a similar variety. The flowers are very double, like gold balls, and are completely without any “black eye.” It usually blooms at about five feet tall, but this summer has been over six feet!
Several other types of more typical rudbeckias also appear throughout my garden. Most tend to stay under three feet tall. Some bloom early, after which the flowers fade out and the plants start to look a little ratty. Even if they aren’t reliably perennial, they will usually reseed enough to return in following years. (In case you didn’t notice, I think rudbeckias combine very well with ornamental grasses. Certainly that’s how they grew wild in Missouri!)
Rudbeckias tend to thrive in my poor, sandy soil. The only care I give them is regular watering (since I live in a semi-desert). I don’t deadhead them, and I usually wait until after mid-January to start cutting back the dead plant stems to clear the garden and prepare for new spring growth. I’m actually rather fond of how the dried seedheads of black-eyed susans look in the garden.