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.

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