What is more exciting than a box of mail-order plants showing up at your door? If you answer “Those guys from the white van carrying balloons and a comically oversize check for a million dollars,” you’re right. But next to that, it is the box of plants.
I’ve been waiting for this box ever since I opened up this spring’s Bluestone Perennials catalog to the Rudbeckia page. I was greeted with a stunning variety of colors, and I immediately wanted to grow them all. My next thought was wondering if they were all as good as promised. Many of the offerings were from R. hirta, often recommended as “best grown as an annual.” What is the truth there? And what is the difference among all of these black-eyed Susans? Thus The Rudbeckia Project was born. I resolved to spend the next few years (decades) growing as many Rudbeckia varieties as I could, and I started by placing a huge order with Bluestone—and making sure to ask if they had anything that wasn’t in the catalog.
Here is my order:
R. ‘Autumn Sun’ (syn. ‘Herbstsonne’)
R. ‘Denver Daisy’
R. hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset’
R. hirta ‘Cherry Brandy’
R. hirta ‘Chim Chiminee’
R. hirta ‘Goldilocks’
R. hirta ‘Indian Summer’
R. hirta ‘Moreno’
R. hirta ‘Prairie Sun’
R. ‘Solar Eclipse’
R. ‘Tiger Eye’
The plants arrive
Why do plants always arrive when I can’t deal with them? They landed on my back porch on Monday night (which meant they had spent at least a day sitting in a truck over the weekend), and I didn’t get to them until the next morning. As with any mail-order plant box, you will find some made it through just fine, some didn’t. Most of the plants had strong new growth, some had a few broken leaves, some needed water, and one looks like a long shot to survive (‘Goldilocks’). I have no worries because Bluestone has an excellent return policy, and if something doesn’t make it, I know it will be replaced. Most exciting cultivar: the one with the foliage that looks like tomato leaves: ‘Autumn Sun’.
Here is what is on the rest of my list for this year (when I visit Sunny Borders Nurseries):
R. fulgida ‘Early Bird Glow’
R. fulgida var. fulgida
R fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ (I’m assuming this is what I already have, but I think I had better make sure)
R. subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’
If you have any experience with Rudbeckia that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. And if you are a plant breeder and want to send me some plants, I will be happy to give them a whirl.
I've grown many over the years, both in my garden and in the nursery I work for. I was very disappointed with 'Cherry Brandy' when it bloomed -- too much variation, and only a small percentage like the photographs used to promoted this variety.
One more I'd highly recommend is R. maxima for its unique blue foliage and tall flowering stems.
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