Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susans)

I have been growing Black-Eyed Susans for almost thirty years.

In my first home, the few plants I started with reseeded and flourished so well I gave some to my neighbor. She in turn gave some to her neighbor. A year later, I was quite pleased to look out from my backyard into hers and her neighbor's to see a continuous sea of yellow daisies.

When I moved, I took three young plants with me. Thirteen years later, every July, I am in the midst of a new yellow sea. Hardy, heat tolerant and cheery, Black-Eyed Susans are one of my favorite perennials.

A couple years ago to mix things up, I planted some bicolor Rudbeckia (annuals from seed). They have exploded. Their blooms are larger with red radiating from the cone. Bicolor also self-seeds. Unlike the Black-Eyed Susans, the bicolor spreads out so I have to transplant the new plants to keep them together. Otherwise, they start to crowd out the smaller perennials. But hey, it gives me an excuse to spend more time digging in the dirt.

Rating: Excellent choice for zone 5

Echinacea (Cone flowers)

I have always liked cone flowers because they have large, showy blooms. The light purple color is pretty and the flower attracts butterflies and birds - always a plus in my book. Being a native perennial, Echinacea is extremely hardy in zone 5. It is also drought-tolerant. The blooms last a long time and the coned centers are unique on each bloom making this plant all the more interesting.

Naturally, when I learned Burpee was offering an orange Echinacea, I bit, I bought. I received a live plant that produced two blooms (more salmon than orange imo). Not bad for the first year. However, the second year, I dug it up and moved it closer to the purple variety. Results in year two, one bloom.

A friend clued me in to a great place to buy inexpensive perennials this past spring. I bit, I bought.....six white Echinacea. I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping the whites take hold. She explained to me why my orange Echinacea wasn't as productive as my many purple plants. It's too technical for me to recall here. Suffice it to say it involves roots and grafting.

My sister, who color-coordinates her zone 5 gardens in purple and orange, also noted the orange Echinacea she bought from a local nursery failed to thrive. It's looking like this specimen, while stunning in glossy catalogs, probably isn't going to rival the purple any time soon.


Catnip - the magic herb

I have four cats, so catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an essential plant.

Easy to grow, self-seeding and highly prized by my cats, catnip is a perennial herb that is well established in the gardens around my home. Sometimes, too established. But this isn't really a problem since I pull and dry any wayward plant.

Catnip, a member of the mint family, grows in sun or partial-shade. It grows in any type soil and doesn't require much tending. Catnip grows up to 18". The herb has tiny whitish-purple flowers that attract bees and, when seed heads form, goldfinches.

The cats love the nip fresh or dried. The buds are the most potent part. When fresh, catnip has a strong, I think almost skunky, smell. In the winter, I sprinkle dry catnip on the kitchen carpet for the cats to eat and roll in. The oil works its magic slowly; then BAM! the cats are crazed for the next 15 minutes.

I started my nip patches in 1995 with one packet of seeds; a very good investment. So far, Zone 5 and catnip are a perfect match.