My Grampa Mac grew sunflowers, a few seeds flung along the edges of the field corn piece, a few more in a tidy row in the fenced garden below the back yard.
If there were miniature sunflowers or exotic colors at the time, we didn't know about them.
Grampa Mac's sunflowers were the tall, sturdy classics--bright yellow petals surrounding a
center disk of brown. The seeds were large, grey and white striped.
Grampa Mac used his Barlow knife to slice the sunflower heads from the drying stalks.
Saved twine from feed sacks served to suspend the seed-heavy rounds in the far corner of the covered porch. During the snow-bound months of January and February, one head at a time was placed on an old metal table. The sparrows and bluejays who feasted on this offering were easily viewed through the
living room window.
In the arrid high desert that constitutes much of Wyoming, I was surprised to find sunflowers. These natives are many-branched with small blossoms. They find a root-hold in the hard-packed grit which edges tarred roads. Scourging winds force the slender stalks into twisted shapes, bending them nearly horizontal. Undaunted, the sunflowers bloom, a tangled blaze of golden yellow under hot blue skies.
I've ridden through Kansas in early September where whole fields of commercially grown sunflowers
await harvest, golden heads veering in their endless worship of the sun.
I meant to plant a thick row of sunflowers along the fence of the upper garden, where they could, if necessary, be lashed to the sturdy wire mesh for support as they grew tall.
I was tardy in doing this, busy with a massive weeding and mulching of the perennial strips, helping J. to get in the early veg plantings.
As the weather turned hot and dry, I abandoned the idea, contenting myself with the volunteer sunflowers that clambered over the rubble of the dismantled raised bed at the back of the garage.
At some point J. ran the tiller through a strip where I had optomistically sowed a muddle of flower seeds...annuals bought several years ago.
Whether they were going to germinate or not remains unclear. The churning blades of the tillercreated a clean swath of earth, so I went out with a bag of seed saved from last summer's mini sunflowers, and strewed them thickly.
I had given up on them, when, after a light July rain, the small plants began to poke through the soil.
Everything about sunflowers pleases me: their robustness and willingness to grow in spite of heat, drought, wind, poor soil or neglect.
They are blowsy, gaudy, ebullient.
The colors sing and shout, even on a grey-sky day.
Their warm-honey scent reminds me of everything that is best in a country kitchen.
The flowers are a marvel from tightest bud, through unfolding petals and full blown array, to the browned, seed-packed heads.
Even the dwarf varieties stand above my head.
I walk along the row, hearing the hum of bees, recalling other years and other gardens.
Should I grow too old to prune roses or painstakingly weed the perennials, still I will toss out a handful of suuflower seeds and delight in their glorious exuberance.