The first black-eyed Susan I saw was a vine, with many small, yellow flowers. The small brown dot they had in the middle, made the plant look even more interesting. I had never seen such a beautiful plant before! I put it on my "plants to get" waiting list, but it took me more than fifteen years to finally have this beautiful vine in my garden. Now I have it, thanks to a very kind friend from U.S. who sent me some seeds. I've learned from Davesgarden PlantFiles that the vine was a Thunbergia alata, also called black-eyed Susan vine.
Later I found out that one of the "colored daisies" I had in my garden - as I used to call them - were, in fact, a Rudbeckia species, Rudbeckia hirta, also called black-eyed Susan. From PlantFiles I've also discovered many other related species, and wished I had them all in my garden. But this isn't easy, as they are native to Eastern and Central-North America and weren't so popular in our country until a few years ago. The one I had in my garden at the block, came from the seeds I picked up from a park, where the beautiful rudbeckias were laughing in the sun. I thought they were stunning and I couldn't resist picking up a few dry heads. I put them in an envelope and wrote "colored daisies" on it. The following spring, I sowed the seeds indoors, then planted the seedlings in the garden I took care of, at my building. When they started to bloom, I saw that they were two species, one yellow with orange around the cone - like the 'Indian summer' variety - and one mahogany around the dark cone - like the 'Toto Rustic' variety.
When we moved in to our new home, I sowed rudbeckia seeds several times, but they only came up once. That wasn't enough for the plant to reseed itself. Rudbeckia is a biennial plant, meaning that it develops foliage in the first year and blooms in the second year, after which it dies. I read a few articles on Dave's Garden about how Rudbeckias can be "invaders" because they reseed and can take over a garden - yet, that didn't happen to me, to my sorrow! I wished they would spread more and form a larger flower bed - a black-eyed Susan flower bed! But no, they just died and that was it. I still have gaillardia, which is reseeding better and every spring I find two or three more plants, even if some of the old ones vanished. Gaillardia is included in the same Asteraceae family, same as rudbeckia. They somehow look similar, both being daisy-like flowers, which I have many in my garden. Because of some of these daisy-like species, which are really invaders - the asters - and also because of the elecampane - the horse-heal - I lost many of my plants, including the rudbeckias.
The most familiar black-eyed Susan is the Rudbeckia hirta species, which has pretty flowers with yellow petals and brown dome-shaped cone in the middle. I wanted so much to have it in my garden, but I couldn't find more seeds. In the meantime, I picked up any yellow flower seeds I saw, such as coreopsis, which even if it didn't have a "black eye", its yellow petals were cheering up the garden. I also received a few tubers from a plant called Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosum), from the Helianthus genus, same as the sunflower. Its flower is similar to rudbeckia's, although the plant grows much higher. The only bad thing, besides the height, is that it blooms too late in the fall, in late September.
My passion for the black-eyed Susans led me to try to grow okra, Rose of Sharon, several Hibiscus moscheutos and all the other hibiscus that I could get. I even let the Hibiscus trionum -which is more like a weed- grow all over my garden because I like its one-hour flowers, white with a deep burgundy centre (same as okra and a few other hibiscus' species), looking like an eye.
At the same time, the black-eyed susan vine was thriving in my garden, although I couldn't make it reseed. I just sow it every spring and care for it, watering it everyday. My beautiful vine rewards me with beautiful blooms and a few seeds which I carefully watch, like a hawk, so I won't miss them when they get dry. Recently, I've found out that thunbergia can be propagated by cuttings, which I will certainly do in the fall before it dies.
One summer afternoon, when I was driving back home from the office, on the road which goes through our village, I saw a miracle: a yellow rudbeckia, growing on the ditch along the road! I stopped the car immediately and ran back, across the field, over the ditch - which, by the way, was too large to jump over. I had to find a shallower passage to get to my much-wanted black-eyed Susan. I didn't have a spade, but I tried to pull up the stalk and the root didn't seem to be too well anchored into the ground. I just pulled it out and ran back to my car. Then drove straight to my home where I put my treasure in a bucket with water to recover from the stress I caused it. I planted my beautiful rudbeckia later, next to a gaillardia and a few elecampane. Everyone says I have a green finger, yet I am very nervous every time I plant a flower, thinking that it might not thrive. But that rudbeckia thrived and, even more, it came out the next year again and bloomed, but that was all. By that time, I didn't know rudbeckias are biennials and I thought the plants I had around them choked them to death. But I didn't give up, because I had already picked up their dry heads with seeds, so I sowed it again in the spring and got more plants.
To my despair, some of the plants were trampled by the workers which were doing repairs to our alleys. They didn't stomp over the asters, for example, or on the mums, which were so many. No, they found my black-eyed Susans to step on, because they were just growing and had no flower. Well, patience is what I have, so I will be patient! Next summer will be better and I will have so many rudbeckias that no one could destroy them, even if they would really want to!