I was listening to an Instagram Live chat between two well-known British garden designers earlier this summer and the conversation turned to the color yellow, or as these Brits referred to it, eff off yellow. I’m cleaning it up a bit here as they used the f-bomb to describe the unwelcoming affect of yellow in the garden. Apparently, it’s rather obnoxious to the English eye and it got me wondering about the yellows, specifically the various kinds of rudbeckia or black-eyed Susan, I have throughout my garden. In no way do I find them offensive, maybe because I’m only part English. Whatever the case, I love yellow no matter how offensive others may find it and I thought you might like it too.
It’s funny, though, how the opinions of others can make you question your plant choices. Sometimes it’s good, other times it’s best to remember that opinions are like bums. Everyone’s got one. Do you! Let’s file this yellow insecurity under plant shaming, right next to fat shaming and fashion shaming (how ’bout a fanny pack with that track suit?). I’m not a professional designer, just a home gardener with a fondness for yellow and a desire to show you why black-eyed Susan is a damn fine plant.
Most of us are familiar with the black-eyed Susan that graced many parking lot islands and street medians in the 80s and 90s. Goldsturm was everywhere, including my garden where it reseeded prolifically and can still be found popping up here and there, especially in the garden along my driveway. Within a few years, the plants developed septoria, a leaf spot disease common in Goldsturm. It didn’t kill the plants, but by August they looked black and withered. I needed a new black-eyed Susan that looked good all summer and into fall. I’m not a coddler so the plant also had to be as low maintenance as possible. Regular fungicide applications to keep the septoria in check would never make my to-do list.
The best little front-of-the-border black-eyed Susan is Viette’s Little Suzy. At just 18 inches tall and about a foot wide, she’s a charmer with a lot of grit. She’s been flowering since July and looks like she’s got a little kick left in her. I’ve divided this plant so many times and given it away to friends and family who have nothing but great things to say about this little gal who spreads so nicely and thrives in all-day sun.
I don’t start many seeds indoors, but Prairie Sun black-eyed Susan will always have a place beneath my grow lights in early spring. I can’t get enough of those huge, happy yellow flowers. Unlike the others, this one isn’t completely hardy in my zone 5b garden. While it’s capable of self-sowing, I’ve had little success with it. In 2020, I had several large clumps of it growing in various parts of the garden but only three plants returned from seed dropped from last year’s plants. They’re flowering but lack the robust look of the ones started indoors from seed.
And the black-eyed Susan whose praises I can’t stop singing…American Gold Rush. This is a new introduction from my friend Brent Horvath at Intrinsic Perennial Gardens. I attended his Grass Day event a few years ago and received this little plant in my swag bag. I love free plants, especially ones like American Gold Rush. It’s leaf spot resistant and continues to flower its head off. I haven’t deadheaded it yet and can only imagine just how floriferous this beauty would be if I did. One plant can get about 24 inches tall and 40 inches wide. It keeps it’s shape and is a great late season bloomer frequented by many pollinators.
The area immediately along the house is a tough place to grow anything. Herbstonne black-eyed Susan takes the dry conditions like a champ. Aside from the initial watering when I planted it several years ago, this guy gets nothing other than what Mother Nature delivers. I plant my garden in layers which means at about six feet tall, this one is for the back of the border. I love the way the finches teeter on the seed heads in autumn, barely bending the stems. It’s amazing how light they are.
Which brings me to one of the main reasons I love this plant — birds and pollinators love it too. I have a hard time embracing plants that don’t serve a bigger purpose. There are a few exceptions though, like those big-headed dahlias, but even they try my patience this year. That’s something I can’t say about any of the black-eyed Susans in my garden. There’s something to be said for a plant you know will show up every. single. year. Steady, reliable beauty is the name of the game in my garden, especially when it comes in yellow. Black-eyed Susan has it in spades.
How do you feel about yellow in the garden?