It’s been hard to know what to write these past 10 days, immersed in the news and the sorrow that is deeply felt around the world. Last week, when I learned sunflowers are the national flower of Ukraine, it seemed okay to share a few synchronized photos of a sunflower that grew in my garden last year.
Sunflowers are a symbol of peace, a source of food, and a gift from nature. Because photos speak more than words, I’ve added only a short narrative. Sunflowers are easy to grow, add late summer color and provide nourishment for our senses on many levels. Let the power of a sunflower opening each day communicate a sense of solidarity around the world.
1. Sunflower Houses
I’ve grown sunflowers in every garden, in every color I could find. It all started with the tallest known as Giant Gray Stripe (Helianthus annuus) sunflowers which children love. Inspired by Sharon Lovejoy’s book, Sunflower Houses, the huge flower heads grow up to 14 inches across, made up of many tiny flowers each turning individually into seeds.
2. Pollenless vs Pollen
Pollenless sunflowers are great for cut flower growers since the pollen won’t shed when set in an arrangement. Yet bad for pollinators. Bees need pollen for protein and to feed their larvae. To support the common eastern bumblebees and the European honeybee, plant only open-pollinated sunflower varieties.
3. My favorite sunflowers
Heirloom sunflowers are open-pollinated, and every year I plant Lemon Gem, Italian White. Autumn Beauty, Evening Sun, and Velvet Queen. Last year, marauding chipmunks ruined every attempt to grow from seed, so I’ve doubled up my efforts this year and ordered two packets of each. Sources include Fruition Seed and Seed Savers Exchange.
4. Pass-a-long sunflower seeds
As I was finishing my book on heirloom gardens, a volunteer sunflower grew in my kitchen garden. Dropped by a chickadee from a nearby feeder, it grew with a vigor unmatched by any sunflower from cultivated seed. By late summer, it towered above me, the seed head growing heavier each day and nodding towards the earth. From a single seed, over 500 seeds formed. Write to me, and I’ll send you a seed packet.
5. Sunflowers as an Earth cleanser
Researchers cleaning up the Fukushima site in Japan put sunflowers to the test when scientists discovered that sunflowers can pull radioactive contaminants out of the soil. The idea was tried back in the mid-1990s near the Chernobyl power plant meltdown. Breathing deeply, I trust sunflowers will not be grown for this purpose in Ukraine.
Let sunflowers continue to grace your garden, and gardens all over the world with beauty, peace, and the power to heal.