Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunflowers-warm memories on a cold day...

Dwarf Sunflower 'Junior'

I think the best part about winter is winter is dreaming of spring--planning and plotting the vegetable garden, browsing gardening magazines and seed catalogs, and sorting through my photos of the last season.  Just the thought of sunflowers evokes happiness, memories of summertime and feelings of warmth..

A few years ago I planted sunflowers in my flower garden with the intention of adding color, height and a source of food for the birds.   I envisioned coming home after work, driving down my driveway and their sunny faces welcoming me.  Well, that didn't happen, I failed to remember that the blooms face the east and since my butterfly garden is east of my driveway, they were "standing with their backs toward me," so to speak..

Ashy Sunflower (Helianthus mollis)

My favorite annual is a dwarf variety 'Junior' that only grows to a height of
2 feet--I plant it on the right (correct) side of the road, in the front row of my vegetable garden.  This not only cheers-up this space, it causes your eyes to focus on their colorful faces instead of my stessed, worn-out tomatoes!

American Goldfinch

Flore Pleno (Helianthus multiflorus)
A few years back I thought the only variety of sunflowers were the multiple choices of seed packets at the local hardware store. I had no idea that the tall yellow wildflowers I saw along the roadside were a perennial native sunflower.  Unlike the large-seeded faces of the most known annual, these native perennials have more of a small daisy-like bloom.

At my first Master Gardener plant sale, I bought a native perennial called Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).  What I enjoy most about this variety is that it's a late bloomer.  Just about the time the summer heat has taken it's toll on the garden, these flowers stand tall with multiple small yellow flowers.  As it's name suggest, this sunflower prefers moist, sandy soil.  I have it next to my outside water/well hydrant and it seems that I always have some sort of hose or connection leak in need of repair, so as you can imagine it thrives in this location!

Since then I've added--Ashy Sunflower (Helianthus mollis), Flore Pleno (Helianthus multiflorus), and False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)  The "False Sunflower" is actually not a sunflower, but it's appearance, behavior--name-- are similar to the real thing and I include it in my collection..  I purchased all of my my perennial sunflowers at the annual Master Gardener plant sale for a fraction of the cost that I would have paid at a nursery or greenhouse.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
Something I've learned about native plants--they are so well-suited, adapted, acclimated to our soil...they're invasive.  These native sunflowers are no different, they need an area all to their own or they have to be thinned out each year.

I know I'll always plant the traditional annual sunflowers, they're such a reliable, cheerful addition to my gardens and I'm glad I've discovered the hardy native perennial...

Just looking at my photos of the past season reminds me that sunny days will soon return!

To learn about additional great plants, visit Appalachian Feet on the 3rd of each month...


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