the odd clockIRREGULAR TIMES

The Irregular Growth of Sunflowers:

Sunflowers, in my opinion, are best grown en masse. Grown in a row or in small patches, they seem like ill-dressed peasants in a sea of much more interesting color. Their stalks are gangly and are rarely covered by anything at all rivaling their height. The length of show from any individual sunflower head is disappointingly brief.

In a group, however, sunflowers are an awesome sight. They cover each other's long stalks, even firming up the edge of the patch, where they are not so well covered. Even as one flower head falls, many more emerge, and the show can last for weeks. Historically, sunflowers have been grown in vast seeds, and they still appear at their best in such numbers.

Of course, if one were to plant a mass of sunflowers from the seed packets sold in garden centers and catalogs along with seeds for vegetables and other flowers, it would cost a ridiculous amount of money. One must pay between one and two dollars for a mere palmful of these seeds, which will produce only an isolated hamlet of high color, far removed from the rest of the garden. Little garden center seed packets are fine for occasional showy hybrid specimens, like Indian Pride or Autumn Rust or what have you, but they do not answer to a garden in needing of a powerful far perspective.

Instead of bothering with little bits of seed officially labelled for growing in the garden, I suggest buying sunflower packaged as bird seed. A five pound bag of such seed is usually sold for around three dollars. A thirty pound bag can be had for ten or twelve dollars.

Take a patch of weedy ground. Dig up a stretch of boring lawn. Turn over the soil, scatter the seed from your cheap yet weighty bag, and cover the seeds with a half-inch or less of soil. Don't be dainty about doing so. You've got plenty of seed extra to work with. Plant it thicker than you think you ought to.

Better yet, just throw the seed about over the ground where you want the sunflowers to grow. They don't need special treatment. They'll grow where they fall. Birds may come and get some of the seed, but you've scattered too much even for them to get it all. Try throwing seed once a week over adjoining patches of land for a slow-rolling progression of gold.Did you enjoy this article? You'll probably grimace at our essay on What Would Have Happened if the U.S. hadn't invaded Afghanistan!

The flower heads will be smaller. The plants will be shorter than the 10-foot giants some like to grow. However, the patch as a whole will be larger than what any little envelope of prime seed could produce. The growth will be dense, shading out competing weeds.

A warning to composters, however: all parts of a sunflower plant contain chemicals which suppress the growth of other plants. Horticulturalists have assured me that these chemicals will break down in a compost pile over the winter. As for myself, I like to be sure that my compost doesn't hold my garden back, so in the autumn, I use sunflower stalks to form the base of the next year's compost pile.

Albert G. Smith,
Editor-In-Chief, Irregular Times

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