Whether in person or in the garden, Susan is steadfast

In the Garden with Mr. Bee

August 04, 2011|By Lou Boulmetis

What a happy coincidence. Her name is Susan and she really likes black-eyed Susans. So I asked Susan — the woman, not the plant — if she'd heard of the legendary love affair between black-eyed Susan and sweet William.

According to a classic 18th-century ballad written by the English poet John Gay, Susan was searching for her lover, William, prior to him departing for a long sea voyage. But instead of looking her best, by the time Susan located William, she looked awful. She'd been crying, you see, and had black circles ringing her eyes.

In any case, sweet William — Susan's pet name for William — consoled Susan as the two of them said their final farewells. Legend has it that "black-eyed Susan" (Rudbeckia hirta) and "sweet William" (Dianthus) bloom at the same time to celebrate their eternal love for each other.

Black-eyed Susans

In bloom from June through August, black-eyed Susans are "biennial" plants that flower during their second year of life before perishing.

You shouldn't have to purchase new plants every two years, though, because once black-eyed Susans become established, they readily self-sow new seedlings.

Most varieties of black-eyed Susans produce 3- to 6-inch flowers with dark-brown centers surrounded by bright-yellow, ray-like petals. They grow 3 feet tall and have green, fuzzy, 6-inch leaves.

The plants aren't fussy about the types of soil they find themselves in, providing they're grown in full sun. However, they do flower more prolifically when planted in soil that isn't soggy and drains freely.

Being North American natives, black-eyed Susans do a good job of shrugging-off severe weather and pests. Watch out for deer and rabbits, though, at least until the plants get large enough to withstand periodic nibbling.

By the way, after having read John Gay's love poem, Susan believes that she'll recall it whenever she spots black-eyed Susans.

"That's great," I said. "Just don't start crying."

This week in the garden

A 1-inch layer of mulch will go a long way toward keeping the roots of shallow-rooted plants cooler and moister during hot, dry weather. That will help keep your plants stress-free.

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