Last summer, in my vast garden full of flowering plants, there were none I enjoyed more than sunflowers. I wrote about them as easy seeds and as garden prejudices. I also took more photos of sunflowers than anything else. Perhaps, it’s their majestic stature, but no–that can’t be–‘Teddy Bear’ is only two feet tall–and even smaller in my garden. Maybe it’s their standard coloration of yellow, gray, almost black and green. No, not that either. Sunflowers come in nearly every hue on the warm side of the color wheel.
I think it was how they anchored the new vegetable plot up against the split-rail fence. I loved how the pollinators flocked to their nectar filled blooms. I’m fascinated by the Fibonacci number geometry of their spiraling centers. I adore their warm and welcoming ways. Louise Riotte once wrote a book called Sleeping with a Sunflower: A Treasury of Old-Time Gardening Lore, and although I don’t want to lie down in the southern sandburs that get going about the same time sunflowers nod their heavy heads, I acknowledge and honor her sentiments.
I also found this quote by Henry Ward Beecher, “As for marigolds, poppies, hollyhocks, and valorous sunflowers, we shall never have a garden without them, both for their own sake, and for the sake of old-fashioned folks, who used to love them.” I guess I am one of those old-fashioned folk. My mom always said I was like a little old woman. She didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Since the sunflowers were so exquisite last year, I’ll sow more in late spring after the frosts. Sunflower seeds are often given to children because they are so easy to plant. Simply start them outdoors, give them enough water and watch them grow. I laid a soaker hose at their base, in the vegetable garden. With a timer, it worked quite well. They grew in nearly pure, red sand with no amendments other than the grass clipping that had collected against the fence over time. The biggest chores were keeping the small plants weeded and watching for Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars. I love these little butterflies, but they have plenty of places in my garden to munch. After I killed a few of them, birds found the rest because they were gone the next morning. Those little black caterpillars will annihilate my sunflowers, so yes, I did squish a few. I never spray. Cutworms are other pests that cause problems just after the seeds emerge from the soil. Press a nail or stick in the soil against the tiny plant and stop cutworms in their tracks.
Here are the ones I’m trying this summer.
‘Teddy Bear’ I thought this diminutive sun worshipper was so cute around the fountain. I’m going to surround it with gaily colored red and pink lantana.
‘Red Sun’ It has maroon to red petals surrounding a chocolate center. Territorial Seed states it is less intense than Prado Red and later. I like the color.
Then there are the wild ones: ‘Solar Flare‘ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ that offer contrast within their petals. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ was my hands-down favorite last summer, but there were very few seeds in the packet. I bought two this year. I planted them in the garden that faces the road. It’s my little contribution to the neighborhood. I hope they like it. ‘Solar Flare’ is new to the garden.
Three packets are from Renee’s Seeds and were given to me at the GWA symposium in Tucson. ‘Sunzilla’ is very large, listed on the packet as anywhere from ten to sixteen feet. Because we don’t get as much rain, and the soil is poor, I expect it to top out at six feet. The other two are collections of different seeds: ‘Royal Flush‘ and ‘Sun Samba.’
Everyone should grow sunflowers. They are easy food for the soul.