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Sparrows have a day. They do – March 20th is World Sparrow Day. 24 hours dedicated to raising awareness of this little brown bird. And why not? Sparrow populations are declining (in England at least) and, even if they weren’t, these perky wee birds deserve to be noticed more. Sunflowers, however, have gone one better. Sunflowers have a year dedicated to them. Yes, 2015 is the year of the sunflower.

Sunflower

Sunflowers are a lot showier than your average sparrow… maybe that’s why they get a whole year. They’re big (usually) and bright. Bees and hoverflies love them. As soon as the seeds ripen in late summer, birds sneak on in there to snaffle them in all their oily richness. When you think about it, we should all be growing lots of sunflowers every year.

Hoverflies

Last year I grew ‘Ebony and gold’ for the first time. Big, dinner-plate sized flowers that pulled in the bumblebees… and then got blown down by the first strong wind to hit the top-heavy blooms. The plan was to use them for cut flowers. They have that traditional dark brown centre, surrounded by golden yellow petals that everyone loves. But, as it turned out, the flowers were just too big and I left them on their stems to feed the birds. Well, the ones that didn’t get blown down anyway. This year, if the remaining seeds germinate, I’ll pinch the plants out before they start flowering to see if that encourages more, smaller flowers.

Bumblebees

If ‘Ebony and Gold’ doesn’t work out, I still have my favourites in the world of sunflowers for cutting. There’s another dark brown and yellow combination, ‘Valentine’, that’s pretty much perfect in an autumnal bouquet. And then there’s the lovely ‘Earthwalker’, which would be my number one choice, but I’m always cautious about the pollen. It looks fine on the flower, not so good when it drops onto a clean, white tablecloth.

Vanilla ice

There is one sunflower I’ve never really got to grips with. ‘Vanilla Ice’ has a more delicate bloom, that falls somewhere between a rudbeckia and a full-on sunflower. It still has the chocolately brown centre, but the petals are more of a soft, creamy yellow. I’ve grown this variety for some years now, but never had much success with it. For me at least, it’s less eager to germinate than a lot of other varieties. And when I do manage to get it from seed to flower… well, the blooms turn out to be very prone to weather damage. But, being as it’s the year of the sunflower, I’ll give it one more go… I have some seed left from last year.

Will you be growing sunflowers in 2015?

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