Surrounded by sunflowers

Date posted: 27 January 2017

Happy New Year, Little Sprouters! If you’ve been past the Garden in recent times, you will have spied quite a bit of works going on.

Some new elements to the Garden are being installed, including a shade structure, a handwashing and drinks station and some new garden beds with intertwining paths.

So while parts of the Garden have looked more like a construction site lately, never fear – everything will be back to normal (and, in fact, bigger and better) when the Little Sprouts Kitchen Garden Learning Program recommences in mid-March!

Other recent happenings in the Garden have included planning for our autumn and winter crops, and the return of blue-banded bees, which we’ve been spotting on our sacred basil and borage.

But the brightest change you might’ve spied in the Garden have been our popular sunflower plantings – aka the “smiling faces” of the Garden!

We’ve planted more than 50 different variety of sunflower (Helianthus, mostly native to North America) in the Garden and along the brick path on the northern edge, thanks to our Nursery team at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden.

It’s our first year of growing these particular sunflowers, which vary in size and colour, so it’s a bit of a trial to see how they’ll perform.

But we think you’ll agree, from an aesthetic point of view, they’re doing a fantastic job so far! The plants have many buds and are healthy and strong, so we’re quite pleased.

Some fun sunflower facts

The tallest sunflower ever recorded (in Germany, 2014) was a whopping 9.17 metres!

The sunflower is actually an inflorescence (same as the Corpse Flower!), which means the flower head is actually made of many tiny flowers called florets. The central floret looks like the centre of a “normal” flower, while the outer florets look like yellow petals. Together these make up a kind of false flower, and this helps insects and birds to easily see the sunflower. After pollination every little flower or floret produces a seed (i.e. A LOT).

Sunflower seeds make a tasty and nutritious snack, or as an ingredient in cooking or salads. There are tons of recipes you can find online to roast your sunflower seeds at home. The seeds are also used in sunflower oil and margarines or as bird food. Native American Indians used the sunflower extensively for food, oil, medicine, dye for textiles and body paint.

Sunflowers can be used to extract toxins such as lead, arsenic and uranium from contaminated soil. Did you know sunflowers were used to remove toxins from a pond after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster? Similar projects took place after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Grow your own

If you’re looking to grow your own sunflowers, our trusty curator Pip says to treat them like you would any other annual plants.

“You’ll require a spot with fertile soil, which is free draining,” she says.

“Together Matt [from our Nusery] and I sowed the seed into little jiffy pots and then I planted them out when the seedlings were approximately 10 centimetres tall.

“Matt suggested nipping the terminal bud out to promote more lateral flowering.

“They need plenty of water and lots of sun.”