When I started my garden this spring, I had few aspirations—just some tomatoes and a few sunflowers growing around the back fence to look cheery or to put in vases to brighten my home. Plus, of course, my kitchen herbs in containers around the door.
I knew that growing sunflowers in Kansas is about as easy as growing weeds. They are the state flower for a reason: They like it here. While the rest of the plants in our gardens have keeled over, are gasping in the heat and calling for the Bucket Brigade, the sunflowers just turn their little faces up and say, “Yes, but it’s a hot heat…”
They can take heat, our relative lack of moisture, and a good helping of inattention and neglect. I’m sure they have their limit, but we haven’t reached it yet this year, despite record-breaking heat and drought, and a personal schedule that has me look around every few days and say, “How long HAS it been since I watered?”
You know those stories you always see about the guy who has grown the state’s largest pumpkin, or the competition that produces cabbages so large they could provide housing for a family of four? I’ve never been attracted to those stories because I always figure those fruits and vegetables are completely inedible anyway, so why bother cultivating something merely to have the biggest, the grandest or the tallest.
That opinion was formed, however, before I ended up with a giant sunflower in my back yard, reaching for the sky and showing no signs of stopping yet, despite the fact that it now is at least 15 feet high. Now, I want that bad boy to keep on going because I’ve become completely fascinated by just how tall it can get.
I can’t remember what seeds I planted on the east side of my garden. They might have been the ‘Tiger Eye’
or 'Giant Primrose' that I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company last spring,
or the ‘Lemon Queen’ I got from our friends over at Your Garden Show as part of their Citizen Science initiative.
They all are heirloom seeds and, correct me if I'm wrong, are much more inclined to produce offspring with odd variations—like aspiring to reach Venus before October first.
So far none of them has bloomed, so I don’t have the blossoms to tell me what I have. But I do know that none of the packages predict 15-foot-and-climbing sunflower plants. On the other side of the yard, I have dozens of ‘Lemon Queen’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ (a beautiful rusty brown blossom) like this:
happily nodding away at approximately the height of my 6-foot fence. Over on the east side are a couple of plants that reach two feet or so above the fence line. And then there’s The Sunflower That Ate Kansas, which I have now affectionately named Audrey, in honor of the plant with attitude from Little Shop of Horrors. Honestly, if my cat goes missing, I know the first suspect.
I did look online and discovered that the tallest sunflower on record exceeded 25 feet, which I seriously don’t believe is likely for this plant. I’m not going to fertilize it—that seems like cheating, and also sort of unseemly for a sunflower, for heaven’s sake. But I see nothing wrong with giving it a little water from time to time, just to keep it going until it either breaks off in a high wind—always a possibility here—or croaks in the first frost.
I did look way up there this morning and see what looks like a blossom at the very top of its spindly little neck. I may have to get out my binoculars to identify it, but stay tuned: I might sort out this mystery any day now. I’d offer some seeds to anyone who wants a really gigantic sunflower plant next year, but I don’t know if it’s going to do us the honor of reproducing or just keep going up.
I swear I saw a little sign on the top leaf this morning that read "Venus or Bust."