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Sunflowers as sentinels

By Summer Walla (summerkidSeptember 20, 2012
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My neighbors carouse. They prefer bottle rockets to books, booze to basil, moonshine to sunshine. That is sometimes a problem for this neighbor, who loves books, basil and quiet days in the sun. And, while I donít mind the firewater, my dog definitely minds the fireworks. I'd love to put some distance between us & the drama that generally plays out over there.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  

Unfortunately, fences are forbidden here on the river, something to do with floodplains. And my driveway runs parallel to theirs for, oh, 360 feet. There's plenty of space between the driveways -- about a dozen feet -- to plant hedges, but that's an expensive proposition. (My calculation: 12 ft. X 360 ft. = $$$ s.f.)

It gets especially expensive when my neighbor's guests routinely drive over my fledgling plantings.

Plus, I've lost several shrubs there this summer because they're just too far from a water source and it's tough for them to compete with the grass. (Once again, 12 ft. X 360 ft = a lot of grass to try to get rid of.

ABOVE: Purple amaranth sets off the sunflower forest nicely. BELOW: This pastel is one of my favorites.

I was in despair.

But now, in my third summer here, the solution has finally reared its beautiful head: sunflowers.

Arising from just a few seeds planted back in '06, a wide parade of sunflowers in a glorious array of hues has started a steady march across my vegetable garden. By this August, they had enclosed my writing table in a cloister of flowers and finches, blocking out both neighboring lots along with the street.

This protective circle of peace & privacy arose not through diligence on my part but rather through the effects of gravity, hungry critters, and lazy fall-cleanup efforts. Sunflowers sprouted in my compost piles, under the birdfeeders, among the tomatoes, over the strawberries. Because birds' planting methods are somewhat random, and squirrels' are equally mysterious, the sunflowers' colors & heights have mixed together into a tapestry. There are lemony yellows with pastel rings, tubby little 'Teddy Bears,' gold & magenta blooms that resemble Rudbeckia, heavy-headed 'Miriam Edible', and one mutant that passed 14 feet tall before it bloomed. All day long, as the sun moves over, around & behind the plants, my Technicolor scene changes.

A bee works late at the office. There's a finch in there somewhere.

Even more thrilling, however, is the changing cast and crew -- morning glories have lept and twined through the sunflower forest, and cleome lives happily in the dappled shade. A dizzying throng of birds, bees and other creatures gorges on pollen & nectar. Cardinals visit the sturdier stalks, and finches flit and murmur all day long (even before the seeds are ready, the finches hover impatiently, plucking petulantly at the petals). Song sparrows move in around the time that the finches begin yawning. Butterflies hang out during the day & hawk moths take a look-see in the evening.

Finally, something dwarfs my 6'7" boyfriend.

And to get this party started all I had to do was plant a few seeds.

A few seedlings even popped up in my lawn this spring AND thrived there in the dry grass as my lawnmowing boyfriend heeded my cries to "Go around!" the tiny thicket. That's when it finally hit me: Sunflowers could be an option for that long, grassy median. No digging required, maybe a little mulch over the seeds, low water requirements, instant bang for the buck & even bigger payoffs down the road.

Dare I dream that this fulfilling riot of color & birdsong could soon stand between me & the sounds of chaos next door?

Stay tuned, soulmates ...

By next summer, can this ... ... become this?

 


  About Summer Walla  
Summer WallaSummer is a native Montanan, former newspaper editor, would-be artist, wannabe architect & someday resident of France or the Pacific Northwest. But she is first & foremost a gardener, currently on the banks of the Kankakee River , from which she can -- and does -- pump as much free, fish-poop-laden water as possible.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Well written, fun, informative epan 3 39 Jun 22, 2013 8:05 PM
ROCKS atlantiscats 1 18 Sep 24, 2012 12:52 PM
Sunflowers pattyd17 1 22 Aug 15, 2011 3:30 PM
Inexpensive, labor-free, and gorgeous! tmccuaig 0 14 Aug 15, 2011 10:59 AM
I Salute Your Solution! wandygirl 5 60 Aug 15, 2011 7:05 AM
Sunflower cross pollenation. ronmac46 1 38 Nov 7, 2008 5:05 PM
Beautiful Sunflowers rosewood513 8 92 Sep 8, 2008 4:53 PM
An inspiration! Annepaola 2 23 Sep 2, 2008 5:12 PM
What's not to love bjspeachyn5 2 29 Sep 2, 2008 12:54 PM
How encouraging! gloriag 3 57 Sep 2, 2008 2:48 AM
Nice phicks 0 17 Sep 2, 2008 1:26 AM
Love Sunflowers! Herkimer_flower 1 55 Sep 1, 2008 7:16 PM
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