What says ‘summer’ better than the big, beautiful symbols of happiness depicted by Vincent Van Gogh in his Sunflowers masterpiece? Unquestioningly, these huge blooms in shades of yellow and gold are stunning and easy to grow.
This weekend is the perfect time to sow seeds where they are to grow. Remember to provide supports for larger varieties straight away, then you’ll know where you planted them and won’t damage the roots later on.
Bigger-bloomed varieties like ‘Giraffe’ can be grown as a companion plant for sweet peas, beans or peas – simply let the legumes scramble up the sunflowers. This not only looks incredible, but the legumes help fix the atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, enabling the sunflowers to grow and bloom better.
‘Racing’ your beans up the sunflower is a great way to get kids interested in growing. You can even plant a squash or courgette underneath to complete a modern version of ‘the three sisters’ planting method.
In a smaller space, miniature sunflowers really come into their own, and I always grow ‘Solar Flare’. This beautiful little plant reaches 60cm (2ft) high, can be grown in the open ground or containers, and each plant provides up to 20 blooms. Your own Van Gogh in your garden!
These smaller, bushy sunflowers can be used as an annual hedge to split a large plot into smaller beds. Bees and insects adore them and birds love to eat the ripe seeds later in the year. During summer, they almost buzz with all the activity around them.
Mexican sunflowers (tithonia) are stunning at the back of the border and their blooms have a long vase life. They typically produce dozens of 5-7.5cm (2-3in) flowers in yellow through to red, and can be sown now.
You can use sunflowers in floral arrangements of all kinds, from patio displays to huge floral arches.
Don’t forget, you can harvest the ripe seeds, roast them in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes and eat them as a healthy, home-grown snack. Delicious!