… well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But they are hardworking plants. They make great cut flowers for late summer bouquets, attract pollinators into the garden, the seeds are edible, and they’re easy to grow… and grow tall, making them perfect to get competitive children interested in at least one aspect of gardening.
Earlier this year I was asked to source 10 different varieties of sunflower for someone who wanted to grow a whole range of heights, colours and flower sizes. I’ve been growing the same few sunflowers for years now… ‘Earthwalker’ and ‘Valentine’ for cutting, and ‘Vanilla Ice’ in the hope that one year it will produce enough decent flowers for me to cut even a small bunch. Given the limited range I was growing, it was going to take a bit of research to come up with a list. And once I started reading up on what seed was available, I realised just how many varieties there are. There’ a whole world of sunflowers out there, and they’re not all those yellow blooms perched on top of giant stems that grow so tall it’s almost impossible to see the bees bumbling about on the flower.
There are relatively tiny sunflowers, like ‘Big Smile’ and ‘Sunspot’ that grow to around 50cm and look fab in pots. Then there are the taller, but not too tall, plants… those that are just the right height to reach with scissors in hand for cutting. I’m adding ‘Soraya’ and ‘Claret’ to the list for next year’s cutting patch.
If seeds are what you’re after from your sunflowers – either for the garden birds or your own kitchen, ‘Hopi Black Dye’ is supposed to be good. It was grown by Native Americans and used as both a dye plant and for edible seeds. I haven’t been able to find a UK source for seeds of this variety so far… still looking though.
There’s even a sunflower for gardeners who don’t want to be sowing seed each year. ‘Lemon queen’ is perennial, and recommended for attracting bees and other pollinators.
So, after extensive research, my final list (or top ten) of sunflower varieties ended up like this. There were two dwarf varieties – ‘Chocolate’, a deep, dark red, and ‘Sunspot’, a more traditional yellow with a brown centre. Then there were the taller yellows – ‘Valentine’, ‘Ebony and gold’ which has flowers so typically sunflower-like they could come straight from the pages of a children’s book, and ‘Starburst lemon aura’ which is a double… not great for pollinators, but it adds a bit of variety to the list. ‘Italian white’ with its smaller, creamy white flowers and ‘Autumn beauty’ with flowers in shades from yellow through bronze to reddish brown. And then there are some reds… ‘Prado red’, ‘Red sun’ and ‘Velvet queen’.
Which sunflowers would you add to the list?