Sunflowers: a bevy of beautiful blooms (birds & bees, join in)

Sunflowers, what a wonderful sight a whole field of them can be when on our travels. In a plant pot, tin can or reaching to the skies in our very own patch of earth back home too – a gift of summer that keeps on giving.

We grew some in Dover from seed last year, with perfectly imperfect results. And as May draws to a close, already so soon, there’s still just about time to give it another go.

Here’s a seasonal celebration of five or so beautiful blooms. Birds and bees? Of course, join the party, we’d be lost without you.

Claret – a toast to summer

Easy to grow and hardy, these chocolate-brown beauties take about three weeks to germinate, the seed packet (courtesy of Thompson & Morgan) tells us.

You can sow them in place, i.e. where you want them to flower, until the end of May. But if you didn’t get to it until the first few days in June, would the seeds really object?

(A question I have no answer to. Still, relaxed gardening gets my vote. I mean, it’s meant to be enjoyable, after all… Like a recipe, I think of a seed packet as a guide on the side, not necessarily the sage on the stage. We’re allowed to improvise and give things a try.)

Tilth: isn’t that a lovely word? These sunflowers appreciate soil that’s well cultivated and raked to a fine tilth, the packet instructions go on to say.

“About 0.1 occurrences per million words in modern written English,” the Oxford English Dictionary tells us. Tilth, a gift of a word by its rarity.

Scots: a celebration in 10 words of everyday poetry

Giant Yellow

Big Bird, he of Sesame Street, came to mind just then. That yellow finch down yonder is a squinty speck of a thing in comparison, and a wonderful sight for sure.

Large and yellow sunflowers, what a marvel those are too. According to the Suttons seed packet: yes, you can squeak into early June to plant these beauties.

The flowers unfurl in the second half of July. I don’t remember much from last summer, but I do recall the green seed heads before the sunflowers were ready to present their petals. Gorgeous.

A sunflower unfurls its petals

Can sunflower grow happily in large containers? The summer of 2023 was my first attempt, including a wooden packing crate for a wood burner and an old recycling trough: yes the flowers grew, and looked lovely, but perhaps didn’t achieve their full potential.

That might have been down to not enough food, or too variable watering, thinking back. The ones planted in the ground seemed to do better.

feed fortnightly with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser, switching to a high-potash fertiliser, such as a tomato feed, when the plants begin to bloom

Gardeners’ World

(Perhaps the idea of home-made fertiliser appeals to you too… The Royal Horticultural Society instructions look good and clear. Once you’ve made the foul-smelling potion, you dilute it to the colour of tea before using, the RHS says.)

Russian Giant

(Learn Russian and go travelling, Tolstoy in your bag, for a few months? A period of palatable politics might help. Reassuring regimes aside, do you ever feel like one life is just not enough to do even a fraction of what you’d like to?)

Books that stay with us: a year of reading in 12 brief examples

Give these plants enough room and they can grow as high as 10 feet tall, another Thompson & Morgan packet says. Even Big Bird would get a crick in the neck looking up to admire the seed heads from too close by.

Among the favourite walks for Seamus and me: Capel-le-Ferne, between Dover and Folkestone. Last summer we turned a corner and there, tucked away behind a greenhouse, a blaze of sunflowers poked us in the eyes.

We got chatting to the growers.

Turns out they were cultivating sweetcorn, which needed the sunflowers to help germination.

Companion planting:
there’s still time to learn.

Van Gogh (green buds in butter sauce)

Ideal for children, as they’re easy to grow and fast to appear, Thompson & Morgan tells us.

(Of course, they’re not the only seed and plant sellers in town. As you might have guessed, the Ipswich-based growers had a special offer on sunflowers last June.)

#oldfindsnewstories: terracotta pots, plants, books, artwork – curated

You can also sow the seeds inside or outside up until the end of June. Good news for when we blink, and there it is, the middle of the year staring us in the face.

An image of sunflowers, reminding us of the famous painting by Van Gogh

“this inimitable manner of painting that he invents that touches people’s hearts”

Colin Wiggins, Special Projects Curator, The National Gallery on YouTube

The birds ‘n’ the bees

Let’s not forget our friends of flight. Birds like Oranges and Lemons variety, says the Unwins packet of seeds.

If I don’t get to sow them outside before the end of this month, no matter, as the seeds will last until the end of 2025.

(A packet of seeds with a <sow by> date that’s passed? They’re more likely to germinate in a pot of compost or in the ground than by staying in the packet, of that I’m pretty certain…)

Elite Sun and High Hopes are bee-friendly sunflower varieties — those add-to-basket clicks (Thompson & Morgan again) will be vindicated before long.

Bees need all the help we can give them. But now’s not the time to go all Eeyore on you. Many yellow, red, chocolate-brown sunflowers ahead: unfurl, blossom, fade. And so many beautiful summer days to savour.

Image credits: Alexas_Fotos; akirEVarga; Couleur; Prawny; Beto_MdP, all on Pixabay

*How does your garden, allotment, or windowsill, grow?
Please add a comment below. I’ll reply to each one.
My target is five reader comments on this blog.
Many thanks.*

Birds including finches are attracted to sunflowers

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