A year in the life: 25 July 2018

It’s getting towards the end of July and all but one of my dwarf sunflowers, which was planted later than the others, are now in bloom. They are around two foot high with many flowers and are loving the proper summer we are having this year. The bees and butterflies think they are in sunflower heaven and it is really quite joyous to watch them going about their business each day.

Dwarf sunflower.

I am loving the weather too but I am spending a lot of time watering. The neighbours I am sure, think the crazy watering woman is at it again, every time they see me with my watering can but when plants are in pots or under the roof line, the rain does not get to them like they need and even a heavy rain shower for an hour doesn’t do much for those planted in the borders after weeks of intense sun.

The larger varieties are coming on nicely too. Some of them are making a bid to expand their horizons and will soon be peering over the garden fence at passersby. Many of them now have flower buds but no actual flowers yet, so I am giving them tomato feed for encouragement.

Sunflowers

As usual when I planted my sunflowers, I tagged them so I knew what they were but despite my best intentions the names have mostly washed away, so in a lot of cases, it is going to be sunflower surprise again.

Mercifully the slugs and snails have kept their distance this year, although I did find the biggest slug wedged between a flower bud and a cane after some rain recently. Sadly it wasn’t willing to listen to reason. We had a disagreement as I proceeded to try and evict it. I won but … ugh. However, said sunflower seems to be doing okay, despite the best efforts of the slug to eat it.

Dwarf sunflowers.

I am hoping to have another go at harvesting seeds this year. Last year, although the project did receive some seed donations, I had to purchase sunflower seeds for the first time since the project began, which meant less money was available for the admin costs of the project. So as flowers fade, it’s off with their heads, in the hope that the seeds will dry out and can be used next year. You can read about how to harvest seeds on this website.

If you decide to have a go too  and would like to share some of your bounty with The Big Sunflower Project 2019, please get in touch.

Sunflower heads drying out in the sun.

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A year in the life: 23 June 2018

After what seemed like the never ending winter, summer has finally arrived and since early May, in my little corner of the world,  there have been many lovely long hot summer days. Some of my dwarf sunflowers are showing signs of flowering and the larger varieties are growing taller by the day.

Dwarf sunflower and Ollie owl.

This year I have planted my favourite dwarf variety called Solar Flash, a giant variety called Kong and varieties called Sunburst and Autumntime. I have got a sequential planting thing going on, so my plants are started off on the kitchen window sill and when they have grown a bit, when I can, I put them outside during the day and bring them back inside overnight.

Dwarf sunflowers

I re-housed my first sunflower outside permanently in May and others followed in the days afterwards. As pots became free I planted more seeds but have stopped doing this now we have reached the middle of June.

Things are going pretty good but it has not all been all plain sailing and I am having to keep a close eye on my babies for silvery trails and half eaten holey leaves. I’ve been spraying the leaves at night with water and a tiny amount of fairy liquid too – it isn’t stopping my plants getting munched but maybe not as bad as if I wasn’t doing this.

Planting my sunflowers in pots initially means I can move my plants to other parts of the garden if necessary or in the worst cases, to A and E (also known as the garden shed), for a few days. However, note to self – putting pots in the shed over night is an excellent idea but must check pots for slugs and snails first to prevent waking to carnage the next morning … ooops.

Sunflowers

The first project sunflowers have now begun to flower. The first photos arrived from Suttgart, which couldn’t have been more perfect – the sunflowers were grown in memory of Emil who had myotubular myopathy and passed away in 2016. Hot on its heals photos arrived from Cheshire and Harrow and Cambridge looks likely to be next.

My large sunflowers are a way off flowering yet but I am looking forward to seeing my dwarf sunflowers in bloom very soon and for now, wherever there is a space in the garden I am filling it with a sunflower in the hope of a beautiful display later in the year.

Sunflower and hydrangea.

A year in the life: 6 May 2018

It is now almost two months since I planted my dwarf sunflower seeds. Being a dwarf variety the plants have been growing happily on the kitchen windowsill for most of this time with the occasional visit outside, to prepare them for being permanently out in the  big wide world. Six of the eight seeds I planted grew fine and I planted a couple more a few weeks after the initial planting to make up for the two that didn’t grow.

Each year it never ceases to amaze me how I can plant my seeds on the same day at the same time but how they grow at different rates. There are always the high achievers racing ahead, while others, take their time, wondering what all the fuss is about. However, overall what I have learned during the time I have been growing sunflowers, is that they flower in their own sweet time. In my case last year, this was November and while I have had sunflowers bloom during the winter months before, they have usually been second flowerings, so I am hoping for a better showing this year.

Dwarf sunflowers

Over the last few days, after a very long winter, it seems like everything in the garden is coming back to life and I can almost see things growing before my eyes, so today I transferred my dwarf sunflowers outside. Now even the biggest plants look tiny in their new  homes but the weather is set to be hot and sunny for a few days and I wanted to make the most of it. Hopefully I am giving them a good start.

Presently sat in an area of the garden which gets full sun all day, none of the plants appear to be sulking about being re-housed but later I will be putting copper rings around them to keep the slugs and snails at bay and will move them into the shed overnight.

In previous years I have found using the cut off bottoms of plastic milk bottles to be quite effective at protecting my sunflowers but last year they were not enough to protect my plants from a mass invasion of slugs and snails that arrived in the garden during a wet spell, so I invested in copper rings and will be using these from the start this year.

Dwarf sunflowers

Since planting my dwarf sunflowers I have also planted some giant sunflower seeds and these are also growing fine indoors but I am going to let them get a bit bigger before I pot them out, as currently they look as if they would make a good meal for a hungry slugs and snails.

And now the dwarf sunflowers have moved out of the house, I have been able to sow a few more large varieties indoors – Sunburst Mixed and Autumn Time, neither of which I have grown before and Copper Queen which I have. Watered and sat behind a hot window, hopefully it won’t be too long  before I have some more sunflowers growing.

Giant sunflowers

Frank: South Africa

The Big Sunflower Project welcomes participation from around the world. Sadly, due to import and export rules, we are unable to send seeds outside of Europe but that doesn’t stop people joining in, with sunflowers having been grown in many places across USA, Ecuador and Dubai.

Sunflowers

In early 2018, the project received a lovely email and photos from Frank in South Africa – Frank is diagnosed with the dominant form of centronuclear myopathy which made the email all the more special.

Frank grew the sunflowers in his lovely garden in Durban and they were subsequently eaten by the local troop of Vervet moneys, making their daily trek across the yard.

Vervet monkeyVervet monkeysVervet monkeys

Katie

Katie lives in Harehills, Leeds and took part in The Big Sunflower Project in 2017. Below she writes about taking part in the project.

I took part in the Big Sunflower Project after a friend I met through a local growing group sent me a link on Facebook. I live in an inner city area of Leeds and although I had dabbled with growing herbs and edibles I’d never really bothered with flowers much and had honestly never grown a sunflower in my entire life. I registered my interest and then one day two little packets of sunflowers came through my letterbox. I felt a wave of excitement, it was miles better post to receive than the usual bills and junk mail we all get these days.

Sunflower

I couldn’t wait to get started so I went out into my little garden and began to gather together my little pots and compost. The three Romanian children next door were looking a bit bored and asked me what I was doing. I invited them to grow a sunflower each. They got stuck in and we planted eight and labelled three with their names which they took them home. Their mother helped care for them but we had mixed success with our first attempt as only a couple germinated (who knew sunflowers could be so tricky?)! We had enough seeds left to have another go and this time more children on the street, who had heard about the sunflowers, wanted to get involved. I’d read somewhere that soaking them overnight could help so we tried that and had much more success the second time round. The Harehills sunflowers seedlings began to grow and grow and grow.

The children on the street started to get very competitive. There was a definite sabotage attempt across the road where a child poured rancid milk on his sister’s sunflower so that one had to go in the bin. For a while the smallest child on the street had the biggest sunflower but once the sunflowers were planted out all that changed. The sunflower belonging to the quiet middle child next door overtook us all, he was so proud. Growing sunflowers had ignited such a passion for gardening in these youngsters and at watering up time each day I had to manage a queue of very eager volunteers. All this gave me the confidence to run a summer holiday workshop outside the local library. They had been given three huge planters and wanted to grow edibles in them, I suggested edible flowers and berries. We held a planting day with children from the centre and some of the young growers from my street and we arranged the plants into three edible faces.

Sunflower

Off the back of all this we had help from the council to install a Community Planter in a grey corner of Harehills which was prone to fly tipping. We decided that it would be nice to grow some pollinator plants in it to attract bees and butterflies to the area. As this is at the top of our street, the children I grew sunflowers with also got involved. This growing army of budding gardeners then went onto plant 5000+ daffodils in the area and now we are trying to get permission to plant some fruit trees in public spaces too. Those little sunflower seeds really worked their magic to increase communication, inspire confidence and start to bring the diverse community of Harehills together again.

Thank you very much for letting us be a part of this, I do hope we’ve helped support you in your mission to raise awareness. We would love to get involved with the project again next year and I’m already thinking about having a pop up workshop at the library to raise awareness of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy and so more children (and adults!) in Harehills can have fun with sunflowers.

 

 

 

Meleena (Fulbourn Primary School)

To be honest I had never heard of The Big Sunflower Project and I had most certainly not heard of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy before 2017.

I received an email through school about taking part – I run a primary school gardening club and I thought “Yes, why not get involved”.  What a great way of combining growing something from seed and explaining how some peoples’ bodies do not grow strong because that have rare disorders.  A few of the children struggled to understand fully the impact of centronuclear and myotubular myopathy (quite complex when you are only 5) but they all grasped how some people are born different and have illnesses or disabilities.

The sunflower seeds arrived in their little brown packet and were eagerly received by the gardening club children.  Some of the children had not grown sunflowers before and to which ends we set about planting up one seed in a pot for each child in the club to take home and nurture.  The home results were mixed!  Some were forgotten and left without water, some were planted out too early and eaten by slugs, some were dug up by cats!  The ones that were given care and attention grew big and strong and added a splash of colour to the children’s garden.

The remaining seeds were broadcast sown in an area that had been dug over in our wild life area.  The seed were added to by a local farmer and the results were quite astounding.  A whole host of sunflowers that Van Gogh would have been pleased to paint.

We subsequently harvested the ripened heads (after explaining that each seed has been formed by an individual flower – wow!) and they are drying in our poly tunnel ready for planting again next year.  We will also pass some of the seeds on to other local schools and hope to raise awareness of The Big Sunflower Project for 2018.

Sunflowers grown at Fulborn Primary School

Nish

Nish lives in South Oxhey in the UK and took part in The Big Sunflower Project in 2017. Below he writes about taking part in the project.

My favourite flower are sunflowers. I also have a belief that whatever you sow into the ground, you have a chance that it may grow regardless of the external conditions. It just requires a little bit of hard work and a lot of faith.

Sunflowers are significant in Hindu culture too. The symbol of the sunflower is known as the flower of the Sun (Suryar Mukki). The male Hindu Sun God (Surat dada) is worshiped through the sunflower and thus all the female Goddesses also love the sunflower. So in our Hindu culture if you are a devotee of a Hindu Goddess then it is custom to adorn their photo or statue with a sunflower…. it will please the Goddess very much and the male Sun God will provide equal blessings towards your home and family.

Goddess and sunflower
I have grown sunflowers in the past and they have given me so much joy. My family love sunflowers too. Especially my niece and nephew who have witnessed the tallest sunflowers grow in our garden this year. That is all thanks to The Big Sunflower Project.

The sunflowers have been a major blessing to me. Everything I could have wanted and much more. It’s also been quite spiritual for me too. The sunflowers have given me so much happiness especially at times when I’ve been down or at my lowest.

I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sunflower varieties bloom this year. The anticipation and excitement has given me so much happiness and sense of youth too. This year has been exceptional.

Thanks to the free seeds from The Big Sunflower Project I have been able to grow exotic and tall sunflowers this year. Two plant pots produced the tallest and highest yield of sunflowers. I am truly humbled and grateful to have been gifted the seeds. I’ll never forget how much happiness you have given me and my family in 2017. Thank you.