These are challenging times for all of us, particularly having to conform to social isolation, but any gardener will tell you that their biggest consolation is being able to nurture and grow plants that will give them hope for the future. And one of the most hopeful, happy flowers I know, has got to be the sunflower.
It’s something we learn to draw as children and which, as adults, we associate with the warmth of the summer sun and the joy of blue skies. Sunflowers never fail to bring a smile to my face, whether I see them growing in fields by the acre or bobbing their heads like sentries above fences in gardens and on standing tall on allotments. And I’ve always marvelled at how easy these plants are to grow: sown in deep pots of compost or direct into the soil where they are to grow in April and early May, the chunky seeds will oblige by quickly unwrapping a large pair of seed leaves which will track the sun through the day. And with only a small amount of know-how and care, they’ll rapidly develop into chunky plants that have hope written all over them.
When it comes to sunflowers, biggest is best
Sunflowers come in all shapes and sizes, as well as different coloured flowers. Breeders have created dwarf varieties that can be grown in pots and to edge borders. But my favourites have got to be the giants, those varieties that soar skywards and which you can look up to, their flowerhead silhouetted against a bright blue sky. These are the stuff of which records are made – the tallest sunflower was grown in Germany and reached 30ft. 1in. (9.17m) in 2014 – but they need decent soil and an uninterrupted root run to reach such dizzying heights.
So, what better way to fill us all with a sense of cheer than to sow seeds of these childhood favourites. And to grow one of the true giants of the field, the variety ‘Pike’s Peak’. This, I thought would be the perfect way to bring a smile to the nation’s faces and at the same time celebrate the love and nurture given by our NHS heroes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. So that’s how the Grow Some Sunshine campaign was born: I contacted a longstanding PR friend Fran Suermondt and she got Burpee Europe involved to supply the seeds.
And here in deepest Dorset, with my partner Steve Taylor, we took sunflower pictures, made and edited sunflower growing videos and set up a dedicated sunflower Facebook page, all to try to bring sunshine to our lives during such dark times. Thus far we’ve got over 100 supporters and have raised more than £1600. A great start but there’s more to do if we want to make a real difference.
So from us, and all our supporters to date, here’s our challenge – ‘we’re Growing Some Sunshine, are you?’