Green-eyed but not envious: Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’

– Posted in: Plant info

Not much is going on that isn’t the same for all gardeners: snow gone, ground drying up, warmer temps, shoveling the ground for the first time this season, planting, weeding, mulching. I’m doing it and don’t want to read about it, so how about some pictures and a bit of relevant text instead?

Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne'

Here was my problem: fill a space along one side of my porch. Because of a change in grade, the plant needed to be 5 feet or taller but width wasn’t as crucial. The plant had to be herbaceous because winter snows are shoveled off the porch and onto or over this area; a shrub would soon be crushed by my shoveling, and become a pile of broken sticks. The ability to tolerate full sun, medium to dry soil, and wind were additional requirements. My solution was Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (syn. ‘Autumn Sun’).

Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne'

This is a plant that does well here, even when wind-whipped. The lower third of the stems is awkward and unattractive, the bottom leaves developing brown patches and edges, dessicating and drying up when the flowers begin opening. This action is described as senescence, and in this case the lowest stem leaves are sacrificed as the plant allocates more energy into its floral parts. This is a common occurance in many plants, especially lilies and New England asters (Aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). My S. n-a. ‘Andenken Alma Potschke’ tries me yearly.

Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne'

But that isn’t a significant part of the plants’ growth that concerns me because the view I’m interested in is this one, from the porch. In a year with plentiful rain, like last year’s, plants will be over 6 feet and liberally cover themselves with flowers in late summer and early autumn. The previous year was a dry one and the flowers grew even with the porch, pretty enough but not the display I had been aiming for.

Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne'

I really didn’t know what I was going to plant in the bed but was open to anything. I prowled nurseries, seeing plenty of candidates but nothing seemed right or satisfied me. I found ‘Herbstsonne’ at a local nursery and knew my quest had ended. They were extravagant plants at an extravagant price, large healthy specimens in 5-gallon containers. I couldn’t help myself and bought two of them, feeling ridiculous for buying perennials in such large containers and doubly ridiculous for forking over the money. The plants quickly established themselves and realized my floral dream during their first year with us. They have increased in width each year, growing fuller and thicker but never rampant, mindful of my distaste for colonizing plants.

I first met this plant many years ago at a nursery. A Not For Sale sign was prominently posted but it didn’t keep me or other interested customers from admiring it. Rich green foliage topped with extra-large flowers, their bright yellow petals surrounding a prominent raised center of green received many admiring looks and perhaps a little lust, even from snobbish jaded plant aficionados. There is a gentle argument going on in plant circles regarding its origins: is it nitida or laciniata or a hybrid of the two? Whatever the outcome, ‘Herbstsonne’ will rise above it.

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Regina Dizon September 10, 2012, 3:00 pm

I just started planting rudbeckia herbstonne. Could you please tell me if you cut them before winter, and how much do you cut. Many thanks!

Ki May 2, 2007, 7:19 am

Wonderful plant Kathy. A neighbor down the street planted a bunch with some echinacea. They are a showy tall plant and dominate the echinacea. Hard to ignore as we drive by. The difficulty is where in the yard would would be place them?

Mary Ann April 30, 2007, 10:37 pm

Hey there! LOVE the Herbstsonne. I have 4 giant clumps of it under my bedroom window. I cut it back two or three times before letting it bloom.

It looks wonderful next to your porch and the house. An excellent way to use it. For Old Roses, my clumps have never done much but get a little bigger. Not invasive here in Boise.

Gotta Garden April 30, 2007, 9:18 pm

Lovely pictures! This is a variety I haven’t tried. I like the height you mention and think they would be great background plants (for me) where other things would hide their knobby knees! I will have to look for one to try! Thanks for the heads up…I always like finding something new (to me)!

Oldroses April 30, 2007, 6:55 pm

Those are really nice, but are they invasive? My black-eyed susans (rudbeckia of some sort) is literally taking over my yard.

Kathy Purdy April 29, 2007, 8:21 pm

What! Say it isn’t so: first mums, and now asters, are no longer in the genus they were named after? How do you find out these things?