Published in The Green Issue 200
Sunflowers are always welcome in my garden. There’s nothing like their big, showy heads tracking the sun across the sky. To me, they are like small children in a playpen. Although they are unable to follow her, they keep their eyes firmly on the movements of their mother as she goes about her work.
Like many of the plants on The Ridge at the moment, they are also somewhat of a winter anomaly. Usually described as a summer-flowering annual the crop in my garden are more than happy to provide some non-conformist colour and support the commonly held notion that we here in the hinterland have an enjoyably mild winter.
Due to their fast and easy growth habit sunflowers are great for younger gardeners, and the rewards they provide continue even through their demise. Once fully grown, their heavy heads can be harvested and the seeds used in a multitude of ways. Giving the kids each a dinner plate-sized flower head to enjoy can provide hours of entertainment. The ‘love me, love me not’ game usually comes first as the petals are removed, followed closely by a faux ticker-tape parade with said petals. Then it’s time for the seeds. These can be cracked and eaten raw (another good activity to keep children busy for a while) or roasted in the oven for around 10 minutes at 180 degrees until they crack open themselves. Sunflower seeds are also a great supplement for chicken feed and if left on the heads provide just as much interest for the chickens as the children.
The seeds, however, are not the only edible part. Petals can be used in salads, as can the seedlings when they are quite small. Leaves from bigger plants can be put into salads or stir-fries, much as you would use Asian greens. The buds can be steamed or blanched and the young stalks, which taste a bit like celery, are also great in salads and soups.
I can definitely vouch for the sunflower as a great all-rounder in the garden and suggest that if you don’t already have some bringing sunshine into your life, you could get your patch organised for a bright summer crop.