Big, bold and sunny rudbeckias are designed to make you smile. Commonly called black-eyed Susans, these short-lived perennials are native to prairies of North America, where they grow in moist grasslands. We usually treat them as annuals because winter wetness and soggy soils kills them.
But they’re easy to grow from seed and flower quickly, making them perfect bedding plants or colourful components of a mixed border. Their bold, roughly hairy leaves make attractive rosettes in early summer before they start to bloom, with branched stems carrying many large, daisy-like flowers, usually yellow or gold with black, cone-shaped centres.
Breeders have developed red, bronze and other rustic tones. They usually start to bloom in August and continue to the first autumn frost, providing food for bees and butterflies. The taller varieties make excellent cut flowers. Perfect companions for dahlias and cannas in beds and among shrubs, their flowers will complement autumn leaf colours. Rudbeckias are among the hardiest bedding plants so they can be started early in spring but add Perlite or grit to the compost because they dislike overwatering as seedlings. Grow them in good light and harden them off outside in April.