A Paean to Black-Eyed Susans

blackeyed susans-1Do you love black-eyed Susans? Or do you think they’re so common as to be basically weeds? My attitude has changed dramatically in the past few years; I used to think they were okay, but a bit of a nuisance. Now I see that they meet my basic specs for a great flower AND they have deep symbolic meaning for me!

We live in far upstate New York, closer to Montreal, Quebec, than any sizable American city. Summer here is pretty short so we may appreciate our gardens more than people who live in more temperate climates. Spring is downright exciting, when we can catch the first glimpses of growth!

We need flowers that are hardy and put on a show for the time we can enjoy them. And, as descendants of frugal New Englanders and French Canadians, we like perennials because they come back and we don’t have to buy new ones every year! And, if they spread and give us more flowers for free, even better!

I’ve written elsewhere about the historic flooding of Lake Champlain that occurred in spring of 2011. We had owned our house on the lake for a few years and had been working to fix up the house and gardens. We had all kinds of pretty things—lots of hydrangeas, mature lilacs, coneflowers, coral bells, foxgloves, and more.

Spring arrived. All the plants looked great. Then the water rose. Not a flash flood, like could happen on a river, but an inexorable, slow increase and a much slower return to normal.

Our lawn and gardens were underwater, not just soggy but under inches of water, for 6 weeks. And, as you can imagine, almost everything died. The lilacs bloomed above the water for one last time, and died. The climbing hydrangea, which had finally started to take off, died.

Everything died. EXCEPT three kinds of plants. Day lilies, hostas, and black-eyed Susans. Three plants that I had never given much thought or appreciation to before but that have, since that flooding, achieved a special place in our landscaping.

All three of these kinds of plants are easy to love but the black-eyed Susans make me the happiest. They spread like crazy so we dig up big spadefuls and plunk them down anywhere we want more color. They bloom for a long time, in late summer, when so many other flowers are looking tired and faded. They are so relentlessly cheerful that it’s hard to not to smile when they smile at you.

Two spadefuls, newly plunked.

Two spadefuls, newly plunked.

And they made it through the flood and flourished. And so did we. After a lot of hard work, our home looks better than it ever did.  I used the word “paean” in the title quite intentionally. I don’t know that I’ve ever used that word in a sentence before but, meaning a “song of praise or triumph,” it seems most appropriate here.

I praise the humble black-eyed Susan because it triumphed. It was resilient and patient and came back strong and cheerful. Who could ask for better attributes in a flower?

Or a person.

blackeyed susans-3

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35 thoughts on “A Paean to Black-Eyed Susans

  1. My black-eyed susan’s have provided a gorgeous splash of color to the yard for the last month or so and are still going strong. I love them…they can spread as much as they want! Sorry I can’t say that about some other of my plants!

  2. We have those in our garden too! I love how hardy they are. Sorry to read about the flood. A similar thing happened here in 2002. I didn’t realize you live so close to the Canadian border. I have a friend who lives in Montreal 🙂

  3. How horrible about the flood!
    I have those 3 plants. yep. lots of black eyed Susans. They are beautiful and blooming right now. They bloom for a long time and look like bushes. I have lots and lots, so I’m culling the herd. giving some away, too.

    • Your comment went to my spam filter so I just saw it–sorry! I’m going to need to start giving the Susans away, too, eventually–they really want to take over the world!

    • Not really. I’m not of French-Canadian descent but it seems all my neighbors are. My background is more Dutch and English, coming to early Manhattan and New England.

  4. Great post! We have those growing wild in the field behind our house along with Queen Anne’s lace and wild daisies. The queen Anne’s lace pops up in my flower beds..I guess I need to move a few black eye’d Susan’s in too!

    • The Queen Anne’s Lace spreads by going to seed but I don’t think the Susans do that. I haven’t found them in new places unless I specifically put them there. Once they get put, though, they spread a lot. At least the cultivar I have does!

  5. I love Black-eyed Susans–and actually have found them difficult to grow. My flower beds are in the shade and the soil is sandy. That combination did not suit the Black-eyed Susans that I planted.

    • I bet it’s the shade that’s the problem–the ones that are thriving here are in full sunshine. I’m sorry you can’t get these happy faces at your house!

  6. A friend once advised, when I commented on the need for a spot of weeding in his garden, “my dear they are not weeds, just uncultivated flowers”. I have looked on many things with a slightly different eye since then, if I like it it is a flower, if I don’t I pull it up as a weed.

  7. I am going to have to go and hunt some of these out for my garden. They will never have the same meaning for me as for you but they seem to be a really useful flower (and my Mum is called Susan too.)

  8. Pingback: The Garden Diva (But Worth the Trouble) | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  9. These little beauties survive in my awful soil / rock strewn garden so yes I love them, they remind me that no matter where my feet are placed I can turn & face the sky, feel the sun on my face & shine 🙂

  10. I have a perennial garden with lots of hosta plants and other perennial greens. Was thinking last year that I should plant black-eyed susans for that splash of color. Now that I’ve read your post, I’m going to do it.

    • I don’t think you’ll ever regret it–they are so cheerful and reliable! They do tend to want to take over, though, so be prepared to transplant clumps of them. I’m looking forward to seeing how my small transplants come back this year.

  11. I think they are so cheerful, and always make me smile when I see a bunch growing in a most random place. Enjoyed your post and how you compared them to life & to people. May we all be as resilient, cheerful, patient, and strong as these little flowers 🙂

  12. I love Black-eyed Susans! They are the State Flower of Maryland. We had a lovely little patch and I was looking forward to more, but apparently bunnies love them too! They were the first to be eaten by the wild bunnies in our neighborhood. We also have Daylilies and Hostas to keep our gardens full and low maintenance. We may even see some after all this snow!

    • How clever of Maryland! I didn’t know that. And I also didn’t know about the bunnies. We have cats that go outside so maybe that’s why the bunnies leave ours alone.

  13. Another lovely post. Those flowers are real survivors. How awful for you to have lost so many plants. I do hope the snow goes soon, I feel quite guilty writing on my blog about the gardening I am able to do. I hope it does not make you sad.-Karen.

    • Oh, don’t feel guilty!! I’m living vicariously through your gardening posts! It reminds me of where I’ll be in two months and I love seeing the photos of green, growing things! And, although it was truly horrible to lose so many plants, we have bounced back and had a lot of fun planting new things to keep the black-eyed Susans company!

  14. I knew they were tough customers, but, WOW! Six weeks under water?
    I love them, and their weedy daisy-cousins. They thrive on neglect and continue to make more plants that I can move into newly-opened beds. The grandkids can pick them by the thousands, all summer, and they keep on coming…pretty perfect, in my opinion!

    • I couldn’t agree more–they’re perfect for me, too! It was interesting to see what plants lived and what died in the flood. Some I thought made it but then they slowly died from the bottom up, of root rot. Others, like hollyhocks, didn’t make a show that year but came back the next year. We’ve re-planted many of our favorites and have our fingers crossed that that really was a hundred-year flood.

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