The yellow flowers that bring me sunshine are two varieties of Rudbeckia fulgida. I can rely on ‘Goldsturm’ and ‘Deamii’ to put on a fuss free, dazzling show between August and October. Like it or not, gardeners are indebted to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) for introducing the two-part classification of plants, evidence of his legacy is in the naming of the genus ‘Rudbeckia’ after both his Swedish botany teacher Olof Rudbeck and Olof’s son.
Although native to North America Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ was discovered in a Czechoslovakian nursery in 1937 by Heinrich Hagemann, at the time he was an employee of Karl Foerster, the famous German nurseryman and the ‘godfather’ of ornamental grasses. Rudbeckia fulgida var. ‘Deamii’ is named after an Amercian botanist Charles Deam (1865-1953) who found the species growing in the wild, probably in Indiana. Both varieties are fully hardy in UK gardens and have earned the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit.
The species epithet ‘fulgida’ means ‘shining’ or ‘brilliant’, so it’s no surprise orange coneflowers add a warm glow even on overcast days. The flowers are a magnet for insects and some like this grass-hopper are happy to pose for the camera.
Rudbeckia is easy to grow in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Once established this is a reasonably drought tolerant, low maintenance plant. Fabulous seed heads stand well right through the winter, by March there’s very little tidying up to do. Rudbeckia is an archetypal prairie plant, used in a matrix of grasses and other flowering perennials it looks at home in our stylised meadow. In an unpampered naturalistic planting like this, the plants are left to fend for themselves. In these conditions Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ remains compact, flowering at 3′ in height.
However, in improved clay soil Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ flexes its muscles to reach 4′ in height and shows how it excels as a chocolate studded quilt in mass planting schemes. Planted as small plugs in front of a 70 metre hedge of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ in 2012 the rudbeckia has benefitted from the TLC lavished on establishing the slower growing grass and quickly filled its allotted space. New plants are easy to come by, in spring simply pull the rhizomes away from the main plant in situ and grow on until they fill a 9cm pot.
Over most of the 70 metre stretch of miscanthus hedge the rudbeckia fares well and in September reaches a peak.
As a member of the daisy or Asteraceae family, and so related to sunflowers, Rudbeckia fulgida likes full sun but is also tolerant of partial shade. However, in the shade of walnut trees, at the other end of the hedge, there is a glaring gap. Perhaps the ground is too dry; perhaps rudbeckia is just more sensitive than it should be to the growth inhibiting juglone secreted from the trees’ roots. Whatever the cause, several were moved to the meadow this spring – hence the gap. Grasses struggle in the same spot too, divisions of the more shade tolerant variegated Miscanthus sinensis Morning Light (second patch from the left) look unhappy too.
‘Morning Light’ should look like the parent plant standing guard to the left of the gate in a mixed planting in the back garden. This is an awkward east facing bed planted in builders infill beside the house, theoretically both the rudbeckia and miscanthus should do better in the west facing border in the front garden.
Back in the front garden in an area of dappled shade Rudbeckia ‘Deamii’, Anemanthele lessoniana and Persicaria affinis add splashes of late seasons colour. The trio of perennials share an equally vigorous nature, all are capable of nudging more delicate neighbours aside.
In full sun and in the free draining raised terrace in front of the house ‘Deamii’ is shorter at about 2′, just the right height to conceal the tired summer foliage of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. This is a classic, much copied planting combination, in my case the inspiration came from my much thumbed ‘bible’ the RHS Encyclopedia of Perennials (Dorling Kindersley, 2006) in which an image on page 411 looks almost identical to the one Gordon took last year (; . Reading the accompanying advice makes me smile : “the rudbeckia and the grasses have the upper hand … intervention may occasionally be needed to allow the other perennials to develop”.
Good old RHS, right as ever : the cerise pink pokers of liatris (to the right in the image above) turned out to be SOS flares. In 2015 the grasses terrace perennial planting consists of three metre wide bands of calamagrostis, rudbeckia and nepeta that stretch along the length of the border – sadly, minus liatris. The design appears linear or more fluid depending on the vantage point.
From the top of the bank the serried lines echo the sense of the gentle slope and curving terrace walls. Beki’s photograph captured the quieter early morning mood and drift of the planting, it was part of an article ‘The Late Bloomer’ featured in The English Garden magazine last September.
In all other respects the planting has filled out but hasn’t changed that much since this photograph was taken in 2012, the first year of planting.
Three years later, the view of the grasses terrace from the corner of the round bed looks like this. The rescued liatris has perked up in the company of another member of the daisy family, Echinacea purpurea. Both these pink perennials are inclined to ill-health in my garden, perhaps that’s what makes them happier bedfellows? Unless ‘he’s’ had a haircut the echinacea’s common name of ‘Black Samson’ seems a bit of a misnomer.
I’ve found it hard to come by information about the origins of and influences behind the New Perennial movement, including the late great Karl Foerster so it’s wonderful that the gap has been filled in the recently published Hummelo by Piet Ouldolf and Noel Kingsbury (The Monacelli Press, 2015). With a gorgeous front cover this is definitely one for the top of a winter reading list.