It is simply not summer without sunflowers. For me, summer is synonymous with sunflowers. Every year I grow them from seeds carefully saved from the previous season and every year I am again amazed by their size, beauty and subtle ability to remember to turn my face to the sun, a not so oblique reference to their ability to follow the Sun.
These cheerful beauties may take some time to reach their maximum size (at least 6 feet and often higher in my garden!), But every minute of their growth is a small miracle for me. The first reason is because they can reach such heights, a rarity among flowering annuals, and the second is due to their propensity to follow the sun’s rays, a propensity that makes me feel as sensitive as I am.
Van Gogh’s charm with sunflowers is well known and no wonder. Anyone who has ever been to a field of summer sunflowers would have a tendency to feel their own insignificance combined with reverence.
Planting sunflowers in the garden
Another fantastic thing is that growing sunflower plants is so easy. I sow the seeds at a distance of about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm.) Directly into the soil after the frost for my region has run out and the soil has warmed up. The seeds germinate in about a week. Before sowing, I change the soil with a lot of organic matter because something so big needs extra food, right?
Most of the years I plant them against a fence, which minimizes the need to beat them, but this year I will grow sunflower plants against the house. I suspect that I will have to stabilize them more this year, mainly because the area is like a wind tunnel.
When the blooms are gone, I do some things with them. I dry some by hanging them on the beams in the basement. One of the heads will be used as saved seed for the next season, and the other heads will be hung on trees or laid on the snow in winter for creatures.
But before sharing with birds and squirrels, I keep some seeds for myself. First, I dip the seeds in salted water overnight, then drain them in the morning and dry them. The seeds then go on a baking sheet, scattered so that they do not overlap and in a preheated 300 F. (149 C.) oven. Cook for 30-40 minutes, stirring approximately every 10 minutes until golden brown. Cool the toasted seeds and keep them in an airtight container.
The heliotropic sunflower is for me a symbol of summer, even if the plants are actually in full bloom at the end of summer … but we don’t aim here.