Photographs by Sabina Rüber
Rudbeckias are prairie plants from North America, their large, daisy-like flowers bringing gorgeous colour to the late summer flower garden. A lot of species and cultivars are grown as herbaceous plants, but it is mainly forms of Rudbeckia hirta that are grown from seed. These are short-lived perennials or biennials often grown as annuals, and they grow quickly enough for the plant to flower in the first season. Typically reaching about 60cm tall, and forming bushy plants that flower well into autumn, they are especially good for pots and containers, or for a cut flower patch, flowering prolifically until the first frosts.
I am not snobbish about yellow - I love it in the right place, and at the end of the summer when you can feel the season slipping away into autumn, it is positively uplifting. However, as you can see from the images above, it's perfectly possible to find varieties in more subtle shades too, from butter yellow to rusty brown, as well as double and more decorative varieties. In classic yellow, you can’t beat ‘Prairie Sun’, which has pale green centres and large golden flowers, while ‘Prairie Glow’ has small, dark orange flowers with pale yellow tips to the petals. ‘Goldilocks’ has double orange-yellow flowers, while towards the darker end of the spectrum, ‘Cherry Brandy’ has amazing rusty-crimson single flowers. If you’re growing the flowers for cutting you might consider a seed mix such as ‘Sahara’ which has showy double flowers in dark sultry shades of amber, copper and deep burnt rose.
Rudbeckias are best sown under cover in late winter or early spring, in modules. Sow the tiny seed on the surface of the compost as the seeds need light, and germinate in warm conditions, 18-21C. Prick out the weakest seedlings and once the seedlings have filled the modules, pot them on into 7cm pots to continue growing until early summer, when you can plant them out in the garden or in pots. Give the plants a good sunny position and plenty of water until well established.
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