Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Sunflowers are useful as well as beautiful

The flowers attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, and they come in an almost-overwhelming number of varieties.

Like most gardeners I know, I’m fond of sunflowers. That’s why I paid special attention to a radio interview with a flower farm owner who was expressing acute delight in her summer crop of cut sunflowers. I took note of her advice: Plant sunflowers close together, between 10 and 12.5 centimetres apart.

Most sources recommend that spacing only for the dwarf varieties, and a minimum 60-cm spacing for the giants.

The grower’s advice turned my thoughts to a long row of sunflowers growing just a block away from my home. I’d been admiring the unusual planting all summer, as the plants developed, flowered, and produced seed heads of various sizes. By mid-October those seed heads had taken on a drooping posture.

The sunflowers grew on a narrow length of ground that sloped gently down to the street, in front of a property’s south-facing side fence.

Seeds had been planted in a series of indented circles, each 50 to 60 cm across, arranged 120 to 180 cm apart. Six to eight plants grew in most of the circles, with no apparent spacing between them. The largest seed heads developed from a circle with just two, thick-stalked sunflower plants. I’d never seen sunflowers grown in this way. It’s a testament to innovation in gardening.

I’m always bedazzled, and sometimes overwhelmed, by the numbers of sunflower varieties. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a cut flower specialist, lists six pages of them. A broad diversity in size, plant habit and flower colour is just one of the sunflower’s assets. The plants and flowers are useful as well as beautiful.

The flowers attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. West Coast Seeds recommends inter-planting sunflowers with squash plants, to increase pollination in the squash flowers. Sunflower plantings have been used in places like Chernobyl and Fukushima to remediate soils that have become polluted with toxins.

Rosemary strategy. It’s always intriguing to discover different ways of growing and using plants. On the walk home from taking a close look at the sunflower planting, I visited a neighbour’s garden where I’d been admiring an unusual rosemary bush that was strategically placed at a tight house corner next to a narrow path.

The rosemary had been trained to a single trunk that separated into three upright branches at around 25 cm from the ground. Because of the tight spacing, the sides were kept cut back to allow free passage around the corner and along the narrow side path. The result: a wall of young, soft, aromatic foliage that releases its fresh scent at each passing.

Situating plants with fragrant foliage along pathway edges ensures the pleasure of perfuming each stroll beside them. A curved row of Provence lavender edging a much-used path in my garden provides that delight in my garden.

Next week. I’ll be taking time off from writing columns for next week. Today’s Garden Events cover the week of my absence.

GARDEN EVENTS

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Paul Spriggs will speak about crevice gardening. Owner of Spriggs Garden Landscaping, Paul is past president of the Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden Society and author of the newly published The Crevice Garden: How to Make the Perfect Home for Plants from Rocky Places. Masks are required in the Garth Homer Centre. Non-member drop-in fee $5. vichortsociety.org.

Gordon Head meeting. The Gordon Head Garden Club will meet on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Gordon Head Lawn Bowling Club building, 4105 Lambrick Way. Pamela Spalding will speak about Ethnobotany, the Landscaper Garden, and Indigenous Landscapes on Southern Vancouver Island. Visitors are welcome. A parlour show will be part of the evening’s program.

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. The evening’s theme, “Creative Winter Projects from your Garden,” will feature club members sharing ideas for gift-making projects.

Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet on Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. in First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. in Nanaimo. A staff member from the Wildwood Ecoforest will speak about that unique forest in the Yellow Point area.


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