leonie cornelius

LEONIE CORNELIUS & FRIENDS
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Oh Happy Day

When someone says ‘happy’ what flower comes to mind? That’s right, for most it’s the cheery epitome of summer blooms, the Helianthus annuus, more commonly known as the sunflower. This hardy annual, which we found in the Kitchen Garden at Birr Castle,  is one of the best plants for sowing in the garden and is a fantastic project to take on with younger kids. Easy to grow and with incredibly impressive results, it makes it a great plant to sow from seed yourself. An thankfully it does as well planted at the back of a large garden border as it does in a pot on a small south facing balcony.

The large flowers on this pretty plant are called ‘Tourne Soleil’, or turning with the sun’ in France but in actual fact the mature plants do not follow the sun but generally face East, the place where the sun rises in the morning. In the French countryside one often comes across massive fields of sunflowers, all elegantly facing in one direction and it is truly an impressive display. Interestingly the sunflower is not native to France but to the Americas where it was used extensively by the Native American Indians for many things including oil, food, medical ailments and body paints amongst others.

Unsurprisingly Sunflowers love the sun and do best in a south facing location. If you decide to grow some of these beautiful flowers yourself or with your kids then February to June is the ideal time to do this. In late Winter/early Spring you will need to sow them under glass or under a cloche and plant them under 5cm of good seed compost in a deep pot. When they are large enough to handle they can be planted outside in the pot or into the border. Alternatively you can sow the seed directly into the soil where they are to flower. This will need to be done later, in early Spring, to give the plants the best start.

The plant is so much fun and when it starts growing it really shoots up! What is also fun for kids is to see what wildlife is attracted to the plant as the sunflower has many friends in the insect and bird world. There are rows of petal like florets surrounding the central eye which make the flower so attractive to wildlife and which hold the seeds. Apart from their uses in cooking and in making margarine, they are loved by many types of birds and the pollen attracts many insects, so important for cross pollination in the garden.

Now is a great time to start looking for some sunflower seeds with many varieties available in different shades of yellow and even some deep orange-reds.  Maybe you can try and grow the tallest in the world…..you’ll have to beat the current record though, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records at 8.23 metres!

Tip: If you want to source some great Irish Seeds then head to the seedaholic website which has a fantastic selection of Sunflower seeds. Look out for the stunning Sunflower ‘Autumn Beauty’ which has a pinky red tinge to the inner edge of the petals.

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Photo By: colin gillen

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