In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2004
Regional Report

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Seed-grown rudbeckias often show variable colors, like these that are elegantly etched with bronze.

Renegade Rudbeckias

Uniformity certainly has its place in the garden, but I also welcome flowers that seem to have a mind of their own. Late-blooming rudbeckias, commonly called black-eyed Susans, are always full of surprises, and they're a cinch to grow from seeds.

Nifty Natives
If you're a collector of perennials, perhaps you are ready to defend the virtues of 'Goldsturm', an award-winning vegetatively propagated rudbeckia that covers itself with sunny blossoms in July. I agree it's a beauty, but I think its low-brow native relatives are fun to have around, too. Using wildflower seed classified as Rudbeckia hirta (which I basically throw on the ground in fall), I enjoy a parade of variable blossoms from July to October. My favorites show mahogany brush strokes at the base of the petals, which would have led my grandmother to call them gloriosa daisies. These I often allow to reseed, which saves me the trouble of replanting them.

Grow rudbeckias once, and you will quickly learn to recognize their rosettes of hairy leaves -- an important bit of knowledge you'll put to good use when weeding, or when shifting seedlings to better places to grow. Like many other native meadow plants, rudbeckia seeds germinate whenever they're ready, and sometimes volunteers pop up in odd places. Regardless of when they hit the ground, some rudbeckia seeds will sprout in fall, others between winter storms, followed by plenty more in spring and early summer.

Pretty Partners
In sunny sites, try planting rudbeckias near tall ornamental grasses. The plants become slightly floppy alongside my four-o'clocks in partial shade, but I think shade-grown blossoms last longer in a vase. In my little wildflower area, I sow sulphur cosmos Cosmos sulphureus) between rudbeckias, much to the delight of random butterflies and bees. As summer turns to fall, beautiful blue asters could hardly ask for better companions.


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