Most of you are familiar with Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’(Black-Eyed Susan) which doesn’t bloom until mid-July but then continues until September but I seriously doubt that many of you are acquainted with Rudbeckia maxima, the Giant Coneflower, that blooms in mid-July and towers above the rest of the garden without being overwhelming in spite of the fact that it is six to eight feet tall.
It does not seed prolifically like ‘Goldsturm’ but there are occasional seedlings.
Hardy to zone 5, this Rudbeckia can be placed at the front of the garden because its large, glaucous, blue-green rosette of paddle-like leaves is only eighteen inches high. The strong stems never need staking if planted in full sun. Each plant produces is topped with vertically cylindrical, two-inch black cones at the bottom of which are drooping, bright yellow petals. I think of Rudbeckia maxima as a see-through perennial because, though tall, one can see between the stems to the other plants in the garden.
Although Rudbeckia maxima only blooms for a month, the cones remain until late fall and provide food for goldfinches. As a native of the southern United States, it thrives in hot, humid conditions and ordinary garden soil, whether dry or moist.
Rudbeckia maxima is an excellent way to provide vertical drama in both natural and formal gardens. It is also excellent for meadows where it will boldly punctuate more delicate grasses and wildflowers. In mixed borders, it combines dramatically with shrubs, ground covers and other perennials, supplying incredible textural contrast with other types of foliage.
Mine are planted at the front of a bed that also contains Knifhofia (Poker Plant) in shades of pale yellow and peach, Geranium psilostemon (Armenian Geranium) which weaves its divided leaves and magenta flowers through everything within reach (both unseen left of the Rudbeckia), Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret’ and ‘another coneflower, Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ which blooms at the same time but also continues blooming long after Rudbeckia maxima is flaunting only its cones as well as Phlox ‘Miss Margie’.
Each year, I eagerly await the exciting cycle of emerging foliage, flowers, and cones.