Casual Gardener: Rudbeckia Goldsturm sets the standard

The biennial Rudbeckia hirta 'Prairie Sun'. Picture by Tim Sandall/RHS/PA

Paying homage to September and the arrival of a personal favourite...

SOME people dare to regard Lughnasa, the ancient Gaelic festival in early August marking the beginning of the harvest season, as the start of autumn. Falling roughly halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, rites celebrated at Lughnasa once included an offering of the 'first fruits' and the cutting of the first of the corn.

While there's a certain romantic allure to this notion, it jars with me, as despite being well into my sixth decade, I'm unable to remove myself from the rigidity of the school calender, which traditionally calls time on summer at the end of August.

Every year as September approaches I therefore begin to feel a deep sense of melancholy, a feeling similar to that I anticipate experiencing later in life, when concluding with a certain inevitability that my best years are behind me.

Yet no sooner are we into September than my spirits are reinvigorated amid the realisation that little has actually changed in comparison to the previous month. Yes, dusk arrives increasingly earlier and al fresco dining often requires a second layer, but September – especially a September like the one we've just experienced – is as good as any month and has many advantages over its more popular summer predecessors.

It also heralds the arrival of what is arguably my favourite flower.

There are many things to love about Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and the timing of its blooms is definitely one of them – as is their duration. Arriving when most of the other showy perennials are fading, the rudbeckia's bright yellow petals surround a deep brown centre that is almost black – black-eyed Susans is one of the plant's common names. The profusion of star-like, daisy flowers, which while appearing delicate are very tough, is another facet of this North American native. A member of the aster family, all rudbeckia cultivars are derived from a prairie plant, and it is therefore within such planting schemes, alongside grasses and other tall perennials, that it looks its best – right through to Halloween.

It's also extremely robust and requires only cursory maintenance, a worthy holder of the RHS's Award of Garden Merit (AGM), a gong bestowed on only the most reliable, stress tested, plants. They'll endure most soil types and conditions, just as long as it's not too dry, and are rarely troubled by pests or diseases. To maximise the rudbeckia's attributes give them plenty of room and position them in full sun.

The variety 'Goldsturm' is perennial, as are Rudbeckia fulgida var deamii and Rudbeckia laciniata 'Herbstsonne' – both boasting an AGM too.

R. fulgida var. deamii is not unlike 'Goldsturm' in appearance and has a similar habit and stature. R laciniata 'Herbstsonne', however, is more distinct and a lot taller. Growing up to 2 metres, the long stems are topped golden-yellow stars and greenish-yellow centre.

While rudbeckia perennials tend to have yellow flowers, the range of colour is much broader when they are grown as annuals, with blooms available in yellow, orange, dark red or brown.

‘Cappuccino’ is not unlike a helenium, with its huge orange-red flowers, while the name of the 'Irish Eyes' annual variety is inspired by its green centre, surrounded by yellowy-orange petals. The biennial 'Prairie Sun' has similar green-centred flowers surrounded by a warm gold ring and yellow-tipped petals but is prized especially for the size of its blooms – up to 12 cm in diameter – and a flowering period that extends from high summer through to autumn.

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