You might’ve missed it, owing to such piffles as the imminent shuffling of suits in Westminster, ebola, the privatisation of the NHS, etc, but 2015 is Year of the Sunflower*. Surprised? I’m not.
Sunflowers are one of gardening’s simple pleasures. They light up gardens year in, year out, without fail; I’d never be without them. Currently I grow them on the allotment for cut flowers – one cheap packet of seed gives you months of absolutely beautiful blooms which are enjoyed as much by the bees as they are by people.
Last year I grew a tall, multicoloured mix which soared to around 7ft tall. Their long stems made them ideal for cutting. But if you don’t have the space there are dwarf varieties just perfect for pots and patios.
They are great plants for growing with children. The seeds are easy to handle, the plants are easy to grow (just be sure to protect the seedlings from slugs) and quick to flower. They’re edible too: aside from the obvious sunflower seeds, the flower petals can be added to salads and the flower buds can be boiled and eaten with butter, much like globe artichokes (but without the toughness).
If you leave them alone after they’ve flowered, the foliage will die back and leave you with a natural bird feeder – just the seedheads and stems remain. Apparently the birds prefer those with small black seeds, which are easier for them to open and have a higher calorific value.
Plant seeds directly in the garden 0.5in / 1cm deep in a sunny spot in well-prepared soil, or sow them in pots indoors and plant out in late May. Now is the perfect time to sow these most accommodating of plants, so why not grow some sunflower sunshine in your garden?