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Let the Sun Shine In!

Written by Jackie Albarella
Imagery by Kevin Grieve and Pedro Lopes

Who doesn’t love sunflowers? From Georgia O’Keeffe, to the huge fields that draw visitors searching for the next Christmas photo, sunflowers have been a staple of the garden. Today, sunflowers are much different than our grandma’s. They now come in a variety of color combinations and heights, and are seen as often in vast fields as they are grouped in a small pot.
   Sunflowers have become a good side business for some farmers. Just as corn mazes in the fall create a “destination,” so does a field of bright, cheer-emitting sunflowers. Grown for their seed or oil, these statuesque plants provide a spectacular backdrop.
   For home gardeners, sunflowers can be just as rewarding. Easy to grow, sunflowers can add another dimension to your backyard. A popular variety is Mammoth. It stays true to its name, growing to a height of 7 to 12 feet. In addition to its height, the Mammoth sunflower can get a head that is over one foot across! That will provide birds and people with lots of seeds to share.
   Sunflowers couldn’t be easier to grow. They are not picky about their soil or watering, so every gardener can be successful. One of the things to remember is that tall sunflowers may need some type of support if grown in a windy location; and be sure to plant them deep enough to support the top growth. Also, keep in mind the shade that sunflowers will afford neighboring plants. This can be a good thing or could be detrimental to the plants nearby.
   The taller varieties make a great cover for an ugly fence or building. I have also seen wonderful play areas created for children using sunflowers with a variety of heights. Planning this type of structure is essential, and you can create a terrific clubhouse with these fanciful plants.
   There are many dwarf varieties of sunflowers that can be used in pots and as an addition to your cutting garden. A good choice for this is Teddy Bear. It produces one-foot plants with orange and yellow petals. When Teddy Bear starts to bloom, it has one main flower. As it continues, the plant expands and adds four to six surrounding flower heads. There is nothing so cheery as some sunflowers and zinnias in a vase on the kitchen table.
   Not only are sunflowers beautiful to look at, they serve another purpose as well. The seeds are great roasted and salted, birds love them just the way they are, and even after sharing, you will still have plenty of seeds to start again next year.
   Sunflowers have been gracing our landscapes for years. Today, we are lucky to have choices of sizes and colors. For me, one of the best aspects of sunflowers is watching them as they follow the sun, gracefully turning their heads as evening draws near. Now what other plant can give you so much in return?

Let the sun shine in this year.

Jackie Albarella is an artist, writer and gardener and can be seen each Saturday on WGRZ-TV Channel 2, Buffalo on Daybreak Saturday.

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