Measuring sunflowers and recording the results is much better than having a competition, says Katherine Miller
There’s a lot of chanting in our house: “First the worst, second the best, third the one with the hairy chest…” (I try and come 4th to escape the hairy chest business). To avoid the inevitable disputes with having a sunflower ‘growing competition’, I thought we should undertake a ‘sunflower trial’ instead. We sowed our free AG seeds in February half term, nurtured them together and finally had a ‘sunflower showdown’ to record how it all turned out. Our sunflowers reached superb heights – far taller than the packets suggested – but we were all rather peeved that once they cleared the fence and bloomed, the flowers faced our neighbour’s garden. Unfortunately they were so tall, the children couldn’t see the flowers, so I was pleased that we had kept one in a pot. One had been brought home from school as a tiny seedling in a newspaper pot, and it grew to just 3ft (90cm) high, perfect for practicing measuring skills.
Next year, we’ll choose an east-facing fence for our sunflower display, plant the seedlings out later to limit their growth to a height that we can all enjoy, and keep more in pots. This year, we’ll be cutting most of them for bouquets and when the flowers go over, as well as saving some seed, we’ll put the flower heads on the bird table for Mr. Robin to feast upon, which will surely put hairs on his chest…
For tips on sowing sunflowers with toddlers click here.
I decided to enhance our sunflower display with flowers similar in colour and shape. The mix of varieties, most grown from AG free seeds, made a stunning bouquet which the children presented to grandma. For mid height colour I planted a ‘Tall singles mix’ of Coreopsis tinctoria which grew up to 4ft (120cm) tall and created a swathe of yellow and red flowers. I also used Rudbeckia ‘Cherokee Sunset’ resulting in substantial double blooms in orange and rust.
The tiny flowers of Sanvitalia ‘Orange Sprite’ (pictured above) make a pretty edging plant which will flower all summer long. The blooms are no bigger than a 5 pence piece and we thought they were just like miniature sunflowers.
The multi-headed, lemon blooms of sunflower ‘Moonshine’ (above) were the clear winners at over 10ft (3m) tall – twice as high as expected, with as many as 6 flowers on one stem, some the size of dinner plates.
The tallest ‘Earthwalker’ sunflower (above) measured 9ft (2.7m), far exceeding our expectations and there were 2 or 3 rusty orange flowers per plant.