Metaphorical Sunflower

cat named mouse

Mouse *insisted* on being in the picture.

I planted an entire packet of sunflower seeds, but only one took hold. I’ve seen several fat  and happy squirrels around the ‘hood, so I’ve little doubt where they went. That said, I’m more interested in the lone survivor.

Thinking that the surviving plant needed company, I headed back the to garden center and bought six sunflower starters. For awhile the plants were all the same height, but at the three-foot mark, the starter plants set dozens of blooms. The lone survivor continued to grow.

Metaphorically speaking, I can relate. One summer in my middle-school years, I grew from average to tall and stayed that way.  Tall and skinny and very much in my own ‘shell’ I stood apart from the others. My pale English skin, tall carriage and bright hair were the antithesis of the California Girl. I was quiet, bookish, and painfully shy, and the occasional target of mean-spirited girls.

Today the surviving sunflower stands tall and straight. The proverbial late bloomer had her turn in the sun.  Large leaves attract birds of all stripes. Blooms attracted bees. Now laden with heavy seeds, those mischievous squirrels will be back, but guess what?  Times have changed.

This time, she’s ready.

alys and sunflower collage


Sunflower Power: Still Number One

I’m a firm believer in one of the following two clichés:

  • Variety is the spice of life.
  • Familiarity breeds contempt.

Can you guess which one?

Emerging Sunflower

Emerging Sunflower, 2013

sunflower 2012

Sunflower, 2012

Sunflower going to seed 2011

Sunflower going to seed, 2011

sunflower packet

Hope blooms from a packet of seeds

Did you guess?

I love the variety a garden affords. When you live and play in California soil, variety abounds. That said, I have three garden favorites that appear year after year: pumpkins, tomatoes and sunflowers.

My top three favorites never breed contempt. For over a decade now, sunflowers make the list. One tiny seed leads to a magnificent flowering plant, growing a majestic 5 – 12 feet (1.5 to 4 meters) or more. As they grow, they attract  beneficial insects.  They’re a huge favorite with the bees.  Sunflowers produce a mass of seeds which we generally ‘offer’ the squirrels at season’s end. The bright yellow flower is my favorite anyway, so I’m happy to share the remaining spoils.

How about you: variety, familiarity or a little of both?

sunflower collage 2013

Sunflowers, 2013

Also from gardeningnirvana:

Summer Camp for Sunflower Seeds

They’re not really at summer camp but it looks that way, doesn’t it?

Flower House

Sunflower Camping

Keeping the sunflower seeds in the ground long enough to grow is an ongoing effort.  They’re simply irresistible to squirrels.  It took three tries last year.  I finally came up with a contraption made from small, sliding window screens locked on the planter boxes on the deck.

This year I wanted to plant seeds in a new corner plot so I needed more coverage.  I ordered a pair of pop-up tents, also know as mini-greenhouses, from a company called FlowerHouse. They’re staked in place, with rocks for added weight. They seem to be working. So far.

Mighty Mouse and green house

Mighty Mouse stands guard

I bought assorted flower and vegetable seeds last month at the garden show. They came in the prettiest packets. The corner plot, tucked up against the sidewalk, includes sunflowers, violas and forget-me-nots. The purple and yellow are a nice complement.

Garden show Seeds

Franchi Sementi S.p.A

I’m already seeing poppies blooming all over the neighborhood, so wish I had planted mine sooner. I added some new color this year, so it will be exciting to see what comes up.

Renee's Garden Cosmos and Poppies

Renee’s Garden Cosmos and Poppies

Pruned Lavender

I hard-pruned the lavender, making way for sunflowers and cosmos.

This bed is a diamond in the rough. Once the lavender comes back, along with cosmos and poppies, it’ll be gorgeous.

Cosmo seeds 2012

I scattered these throughout the garden. They were beautiful last year and a favorite with the birds.

I hard-pruned the lavender to remove the dead wood below, then tucked in a few seeds in the newly open space.  I had high hopes the critters wouldn’t notice. Silly gardener.  Of course they noticed.  So, I’ve put my proverbial eggs back into one basket, the tiny plot that reminds Boomdee of a camp site for squirrels.  Nooooooooo!!!

I'm on it!

I’m on it!

Smashing Good Time?

I had a smashing weekend, which is to say I smashed several fingers in the fire door leading to the garage. Heavier than usual winds blew all day. The draught created by the wind pulled the door closed faster than usual, smashing three of my fingers in the process. I went down on my knees, the pain was so intense, but I’m on the mend now and extra vigilant around that door until the winds subside. My dear friend C. stopped by with a card of well wishes and two comfy pairs of gardening gloves. Isn’t that the sweetest? Between finger-smashing and the news out of Boston, this thoughtful gift was a bright spot in my day.

Thank you

A sweet gift from a dear friend

Sending love and healing energy back out into the world.  Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Squirrels: They’re back!

In early June I planted a row of sunflower seeds along the front deck. Within a week they were gone, consumed by our neighborhood squirrels. I planted a second batch, this time indoors, but the transplants were leggy. Refusing to give up, I came up with a barrier, heretofore known as the screen saver, and planted one last time. They took!  Within 90 days we had a beautiful row of six-foot sunflowers.

Last year the flowers went completely to seed on the plant. I saved a handful of seeds, then placed the flower heads along the garden wall for the squirrels. It was fun watching them nibble away.  I love watching those cute little “hands” busy at work. They polished off the sunflower seeds in a matter of days.

This year the squirrels took matters into their own hands. Not known for their manners, they simply bent (or broke) the stems till they reached the deck and helped themselves.

I’m always amazed at their ingenuity. Wild bird centers are full of gadgets to deter squirrels from bird feeders, but those clever squirrels figure it out. When it involves nuts or seeds, squirrels are up for the challenge.

I finally caught two of them in the flower-bending act this week. Did I shoo them away?  Of course not! I grabbed the camera instead.

squirrel eating sunflower seeds

Mmmm…not half bad.

squirrel eating sunflowers

Hey!  I want some too.

squirrel standing tall

This buffet line is taller than I remember it last year.

squirrel hide and seek

Shhhh! Pretend I’m not here.

squirrel with stem

Let me just…break off…this annoying stem.

squirrel with sunflower

That’s more like it!

running squirrel

I’m out of here. I’ll be back once you’ve cleaned up this mess.

California tree squirrels are either Gray or Fox. Here is a side by side comparison.

Sunflowers: Setting Sun on the Season

I knew this day would arrive, but oh how I’ll miss them.  The row of sunflowers lining the deck are starting to go to seed.

Impatient birds knocked over one of the lightweight planter boxes last week, smashing the largest flower head clean off the stalk and into a heap on the deck. My son helped me move the planters from the deck to the narrow space behind the lavender to stabilize the planters.  Now wedged in place, they won’t fall over, but they look like they shrunk two feet.  Hopefully the rest of the flowers will go to seed on the stalk. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Last year I placed the seed heads along our stone wall, just outside my office window.  There I could watch the squirrels pick them clean.  I don’t know why I find those cute little hands at work so appealing.  I’m annoyed when they chew off the pumpkin leaves, but delighted when they snack on the seeds.

For my readers living in different parts of the world:

Sunflower (Helianthus annus) is an annual plant native to the Americas. It possesses a large inflorescence (flowering head). The sunflower is named after its huge, fiery blooms, whose shape and image is often used to depict the sun. It has a rough, hairy stem, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The heads consist of many individual flowers which mature into seeds, often in the hundreds, on a receptacle base. From the Americas, sunflower seeds were brought to Europe in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient. Leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed, while the stems contain a fibre which may be used in paper production. – Wikipedia

Today I’m wearing my worn out but much-loved sunflower t-shirt with the saying “Love this Life” across the front.  It’s my own little sendoff to Helianthus annus, flower of the sun.

Here are the last of them, photographed at dusk.

Sunflower at Dusk
End of Season Sunflower

Floating rafts of sunflowers are being used to clean up water contaminated as a result of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet Union. The roots of the sunflower plants remove 95% of the radioactivity in the water by pulling contaminants out of the water.”

Sunflowers: Better Luck Next Year?

Budding Sunflower

Budding Sunflower

I tried something a little different with my sunflowers this year. I sowed the seeds in narrow planters and lined the front of the deck.  If all went according to plan, the seeds would produce tall, healthy specimens.  The towering wall of sunflowers would face the kitchen but could also be enjoyed by passersby.   I was jazzed!

My son helped me plant the first crop, which promptly disappeared.  Squirrels made off with the seeds.  A few went undetected, but once sprouted they ate those as well.  I managed to preserve three plants.  Moving on to plan B, I purchased more seeds, and started them indoors.  I also planted a few in the side yard hoping the critters wouldn’t notice the new location.  Last summer the flowers grew as tall as the house there.  Alas, those too disappeared.  Poof.

Indoors, the seeds sprouted quickly. I needed a plan to keep them safe.  The morning of Mother’s Day, my husband helped me assemble what I now refer to as “screen savers,” a system I created with left over screening and sliding window screens from the hardware store.  They worked!

I originally planned to remove the screens from the established plants, but the stalks remained on the thin side.  The soil dried out quickly, even after I added a thick layer of mulch.  Eventually the stalks cleared the top of the screens and started their accent.  The birds arrived, pecking away at the leaves, creating patterns as they chipped away.  Every few days, the plant added leaves and the birds came back for more.

SunflowerThis week, ninety days later and right on schedule, the sunflowers are in bloom.  The original three are the hardiest of the plants and the first to bloom.  They are taller and stronger than the others.  The transplants are fairly weak, with bent stalks and smaller stems.  But they too have buds.

What have I learned for next year?

  • The planters need to be at least twice the current depth
  • Sow directly into the soil, add lots of mulch, and screen
  • Plant a lot more seeds, then thin when necessary
  • Don’t give up hope!

Row fo Sunflowers

Sunflowers in a row

Sunflowers Line the Deck

Thwarting Squirrels: A Different Kind of Screensaver

Screened In

I headed to my local garden center this week in search of Floating Row Covers (I blogged about them here).  I got lazy, and drifted into the Home Depot parking lot instead since it’s closer.  After a frustrating search on my own, then with the help of an employee,  it was apparent the cupboards were bare.  Sure, I could have come home and called around town or simply ordered row covers online, but I really wanted to find a solution pronto for my sunflower seed challenge: keeping squirrels at bay till the seeds grow.

I wandered the store looking for inspiration, and found a role of screening used to repair screen windows and doors.  I still wasn’t sure what I would use to support the screening, but at least it would fit two of my requirements:  it would allow air to circulate and the seeds would be easy to water.  While kneeling in the aisles comparing materials and dimensions, I noticed adjustable window screens and had my ah-ha moment.  They were perfect in every way.  The light wood and aluminum frame offered the support I needed and the screen would deter the four-legged pests.  Hurray!

With a bit of trial and hardly any error, the plan worked.  I tied a pair of the adjustable screens together using garden twine.  I folded them tee-pee style over the planter boxes and determined the angle and width of the sides.  I made a template using the back side of one of last year’s calendar, then cut scraps of an old screen into the correct shape.  Mike helped me staple those in place along the ends.  I now have functional, reusable tents for my planters.  The last step was to figure out a way to secure the tents to the planter boxes.  I found my answer on my husband’s work bench: sliding window locks!

I will bravely plant more seeds this week.  Once they emerge I’ll report back.  Wish my luck.

Assembling the Squirrel Barrier

Squirrel Barriers


Such Promise in a Packet of Seeds

Organic Sunflower Seeds from Botanical Interests

Just imagine:  for $1.99 (plus tax) you can hold a handful of summer potential in a slim packet of seeds. I’ve been dropping seeds into the earth since I was five, forever optimistic that what I planted would grow.  And grow they did!  Given the right amount of water and sun that slip of a seed knows to break through the earth, set roots below and then do what it does best: grow up and out as it morphs into leaves, branches, flowers and fruit.  When the cycle is complete, that clever plant turns to seed so the process can begin anew.

Nothing epitomizes this cheerful process like sunflowers.  Helianthus annuus are easy to grow and spectacular in size. A regular show-stopper along the garden path, they follow the sun throughout the day, then reset at night. Glorious flowers and abundant seeds attract wildlife as they reach skyward.

Once these cold spring days are behind us, I’ll tear open that packet and gently tuck each seed beneath the soil.   All that promise in a packet of seeds.

Here’s what we’ll plant this year (descriptions from the seed packets):

Sunflower ‘Mammoth Russian‘ from Botanical Interests®

Heirloom Towering in the garden, the tall plants produce a single, magnificent flower reaching 1 foot across.  Ripe seeds attract birds and wildlife.  Annual full sun, blooms summer to fall 6′ – 10′ fall”

Sunflower ‘Evening Sun‘ from Botanical Interests®

Heirloom Fiery shades of vivid gold, autumn orange, warm mahogany and blazing bronze! A dazzling cut flower and enticing treat for birds.  Annual full sun.  Blooms summer to fall, 6′ – 8′ tall”

One of last year’s sunflowers: From Seed to Tower in an Hour

The default direction of the sunflower head is to point east towards sunrise: Helianthus: Flowers of the sun