Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lesser-Known Rudbeckia

I've done a 180-degree flip when it comes to Rudbeckia. At one time, it was the main feature in my late-summer garden. Then, cheerful though it was, I got tired of it and decided I wanted to favour flowers with cool shades of pink, purple and blue. So I ripped out most of the Rudbeckia and planted things like Veronica and Catmint.

I don't regret giving Catmint or Veronica more play in my garden, but I found myself missing the Rudbeckia. Like Phlox, Sunflowers and Echinacea, it is a quintessential late-summer flower. The bright yellow flowers look great mixed with purple Phlox and pink Echinacea.

With this change of heart, I find myself reconsidering the many different types of Rudbeckia.

Before we take a look at some of the more unusual types of Rudbeckia, I think it's worth a quick look at the tried and true. One of the most popular is Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' has golden-yellow flowers with a black centre. It will easily grow in average garden soil. It likes sun but appreciates a little light afternoon shade. Removing spent flowers will prolong the display of blooms into the autumn. This perennial has a slow spreading habit but is easy to remove where unwanted. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

There is also a more compact version available:

Rudebckia fulgida 'Little Goldstar' was bred to be an improvement on 'Goldstrum'. It blooms profusely on a smaller plant that stands just 14-16 inches tall. It's an easy-to-grow perennial that will prosper in average garden soil with normal moisture conditions. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

While this is a cute little Rudbeckia, in my opinion, it does not have quite the same bright punch as 'Goldstrum'. The yellow petals of 'Little Goldstar' are smaller and the dark centre is more dominant.

And finally, there is Rudbeckia hirta. These are short-lived perennials that bloom in the first year from seed that was sown in the early spring. Often you'll see them sold as annuals to brighten up fall container plantings. Rudbeckia hirta is easily grown in average garden soil. They like full sun and moist, free-draining soil. 

Now let's look at a few of the more unusual Rubdeckia starting with a couple of tall perennials:

Rudbeckia pinnata growing in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden.

Drooping Coneflower or Grey-headed Coneflower, Rudbeckia pinnata has yellow petals that hang down and an erect brown cone. This plant has long flower stems and hairy, divided basal leaves. It likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil. Full sun. Height: 2-5 ft (50-150 cm), Spread: 2ft (45 cm). USDA zones: 3-10.

Rudbeckia Maxima

Rudbeckia Maxima is a native of the Southern U.S. It has really interesting grey-blue foliage and tall brown-eyed daisies that don't require staking. This perennial grows in average garden soil in full sun. It too prefers soil conditions to be on the moist side. Height is a whopping 150-240 cm (59-94 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry'

The next two Rudbeckia I want to show you are shorter but are still quite tall and upright.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'

So often you see closeups of flowers when a plant is profiled, but I really think it is important to consider the size and shape of a plant when you're doing your planning. 

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' is a round, bushy plant. In contrast Rudbeckia subomentosa 'Henry Eilers'  and Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' are upright and narrow.

Rudbeckia subomentosa 'Henry Eilers'. Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers' has flowers with narrow yellow petals with dark brown centres. The foliage apparently has a light vanilla scent. Full sun with a bit of light afternoon shade. Height: 120-180 cm (47-70 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' is very similar to 'Henry Eilers', but is shorter.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry'

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' is a tall, upright plant with quilled yellow flowers with brown centres. 'Little Henry' blooms from midsummer into fall and is attractive to butterflies. It will grow in a range of soils types and tolerates moist to fairly dry growing conditions. Full sun or light shade. Height: 80-90 cm (30-35 inches) Spread: 55-60 cm (20-23 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

This next Rudbeckia has become my new favourite. Not everyone shares my good opinion–many would describe Rudbeckia triloba as a weedy native plant. It's a short-lived perennial (annual in my garden) that you might see growing wild along roadsides, in damp woods and along streams. 

What I think is charming about this Brown-eyed Susan are the flowers. The yellow petals are shorter and less pointy than those of Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'. This makes for a smaller, rounder flower and more dainty bloom.

This is just one single plant!

Rudbeckia triloba is a short-lived perennial that is native to much of Eastern North America. It tolerates light shade and is easily grown in average, moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead the flowers to encourage new flowers and to prevent unwanted seedlings. Attractive to butterflies. Full morning sun with some light afternoon shade is ideal. Height: 75-100 cm (29-39 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.

My front garden.

Looking along the front of the garden you can see hints of the yellow Rudbeckia flowers. 
Monarda in the foreground.

Rudbeckia triloba is a tall plant with an umbrella shape. One of the unexpected things I like about this Rudbeckia is the contrast of its green foliage with the dark, reddish-brown stems. 

Originally I had it planted in the back garden, but last fall I spread some seeds in the front yard as well. It now adds a little sparkle of yellow in among the pink and purple Phlox. 

Grange Hollow Nursery 

One of the best ways to grow tall Rudbeckia triloba is amongst other plants it can lean on. In this example, it was grown alongside Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria.

My backyard garden.

This next Rudbeckia becomes a bit of a tangled mess, but the mix of colors is very striking. It's another type of Rudbeckia triloba and has a similar umbrella of flowers.

Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' has bi-color blooms. It is a short-lived perennial with a tendency to liberally reseed itself. It is easy to grow in average or moist, well-drained soil. It's tall, and a bit floppy, so it is good to give it some support (or grow it next to a plant it can lean on). Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm ( 36-48 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches) . USDA Zones 3-10.

Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' offers a nice contrast between its bright green leaves and its deep purple stems. This too is a short-lived perennial that reseeds itself. To contain the spread of seedlings, I chop off the flowers as soon as they have set seed. Then I sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the ground in the fall. 

If you like order and hate unwanted seedlings, this might not be the plant for you.

Companion Plants

Rudbeckia with Echinacea and Russian Sage in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden.

Rudbeckia looks great with a whole range of late-summer perennials including Phlox, Echinacea, Russian Sage, Helenium and ornamental grasses. 

 Rudbeckia with ornamental grasses in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden. 

 Rudbeckia with Helenium (foreground orange), Russian Sage and Pink Phlox.
Public park in Brampton.

Rudbeckia with Phlox and Daylilies

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  1. A great run-down on the different varieties of Rudbeckia. Thanks, Jennifer.

  2. Rudbeckias are wonderful and essential in the late summergarden together with other late summer plants and grasses. You show here a lovely collection.

    1. I agree with you Janneke. Late-summer isn't quite as pretty without Rudbeckia.

  3. Thank you for this! How wonderful Where did you get your seeds/ plants, specifically the triloba and the Henry Eilers?

    1. I am a definite plant collector! They have Rudbeckia triloba at Humber Nursery here in Brampton. I believe I got the ‘Prairie Glow’ at Lost Horizons near Acton (a great resource for unusual plants).The ‘Henry Eilers’ was photographed at a local park. I have very similar ‘Little Henry’. I have had ‘Little Henry’ for a number of years, so sorry I don’t know where I found it. I actually have one more type of Rudbeckia, but I mislaid the plant tag. If I find it, I will have to update the post.


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