We gardeners read a plethora of magazines and e-zines on this subject dear to our hearts, always hoping for additional insight. One of my favorites is Fine Gardening but in the latest issue, I have to take issue with one of the suggestions for substituting a new standard for an old standard.
I regard a standard as a plant that is tried and true (what a great phrase!), thus around for many years and reliable in many areas of the country. The writer says that Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) “flops under the weight of its yellow daisylike flowers”. I beg to disagree. I have grown Rudbeckia maxima in my front garden since 2005 and it has never flopped, regardless of the weather. The majority of the large blue-green foliage is basal and each tall stem, approximately six feet, bears a single flower that consists of golden yellow petals around a conical cone. The writer also says that this plant is susceptible to rust. I must say that is a disease I have never seen on these coneflowers.
In spite of its height, I grow Giant Coneflower near the front of my center bed because I treat it as a see-through plant, meaning you can see the plants at the middle and back of the bed. It is very attractive to butterflies during its bloom period of July and its seeds are sustenance for goldfinches.
The new suggested standard is Lemon Queen Sunflower (Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’). ). It is touted as being “big, bold, and deerproof” but so is Rudbeckia maxima. I prefer the color of the Helianthus lemon yellow flowers and its multiplicity of blooms. Therefore, in 2003, knowing that it would grow six feet tall, I planted it at the back of the bed where Rudbeckia maxima is now. What I didn’t know is that this queen wants to really rule the kingdom. Before I knew it, she had spread six feet and would have continued to expand her realm had I not sent her into exile.
This would be an excellent perennial for a prairie garden and I saw it used that way in Belgium. The Belgians and the Dutch seem to be entranced with our natives, particularly the prairie plants.
The moral of this story is, “Don’t believe everything you read.”
Postscript: I just received a response from the author of the article to which I referred and am including it here:
Thanks so much for your letter and I apologize for my delayed response. I actually just returned from Tennessee and a series of photo shoots for Fine Gardening. And, while there I actually had an encounter with giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) —and a disgruntled gardener that is ready to rip it out of his garden because it flops so badly. I’ve attached a photo I took in the garden—which shows this plant in all its unruly glory.
I also wanted you to know that I was sure to consult plant experts from around the country about my initial list of “Old Standards” and ask their opinions about certain plants and the issues they may or may not have had with them. In fact, giant coneflower was first recommended to me as a potential problem plant by Stephanie Cohen. I also found out that this plant can be problematic in Chicago (my source at the CBG reported) and in Seattle by two designers who have replaced it with other big, bold plants due to its floppiness. To boot, I returned home to CT from this most recent trip and low-and-behold, my giant coneflower (which I still love and refuse to yank out of its bed) has rust! Yikes!
I’m thrilled to learn that in your area of Ohio, giant coneflower seems to be on its best behavior. I wish (as I’m sure the folks in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Washington do) she performed similarly in my neck of the woods. Perhaps you have a certain care regimen that makes this possible? If so, please share!!!
I guess the lesson is, plants perform differently in different corners of the country. Please feel free to post my response on your blog (?) and I will forward on this exchange to our administrative assistant so we can perhaps publish your letter and my response in our upcoming issue.
Thanks again for reaching out and happy gardening,