It’s the Summer Solstice…amazing! A few days ago it was April, and suddenly it’s mid-June. Summer already and I’m still planting annuals! Thank goodness a lot of the flowers in the garden just planted themselves and return year after year to grace the gardens with their beauty. One of my favorite no-work perennials is rudbeckia, and my absolute favorite of this large family is a variety called “Chim Chimnee.” It came on the market several years ago and as soon as I saw its lovely quilled petals in various shades of apricots, bronzed pale oranges and burnished brickish reds, I knew it belonged in my gardens. They are just beginning to open, as you can see in the photo, but each plant becomes a bouquet of long-lasting blooms, both in the garden and as a cut flower. Seeded early indoors (Feb.) they will flower the first year and continue to bloom for years if given a well-drained, sunny location. One of the joys of this plant is its tendency to self-seed, which I encourage by keeping the areas under and nearby clear and not too heavily mulched so seeds can come in contact with soil. The results are a range of delightful surprises. All of these rudbeckias in my garden are “Chim Chimnee” prodigy. This beauty has some of the parents’ quilled petals, but obviously sports characteristics of a more flamboyant grandparent or two! And this one is a double without any quills at all. I love the interesting brushstrokes that highlight the center of this one. And this one is obviously schizophrenic in a lovely way. This bright yellow sunflower-like one is probably just like a great-great grandparent, the common rudbeckia that “Chim Chimnee” resulted from after years of selective breeding and crossing. A few plants die of old age each year so I start a dozen or so replacement “Chim Chimnee” from seed each year so that I have the more unusual colors and quilled form, but I’m more than happy to see the off-spring appear here and there in the gardens each June. Unlike many perennials that only bloom for two to three weeks, rudbeckias will bloom for months, especially if kept dead-headed. There will be a bit of range in their height as well. Some remain a petite 15-18″ and some like the last photo will reach over 24″. All have sturdy stems and remain tidy in the garden. They never seem to be bothered by pests or diseases. I adore this plant. More than the Solstice, for me it signals that summer is indeed here!