Watch sunflowers thrive in our well-suited climate
When I think of sunflowers, I think of ants. Baseball (the seeds). Van Gogh. Meadowlarks. And Tuscany.
The first time I saw a field of bobbing-headed sunflowers and realized they weren’t weeds was on a trip to Italy. The blooms ranged in color from egg-yolk yellow to burnt orange, ablaze in the setting sun. Where I came from, sunflowers were a weed. A volunteer flower in a field, a convenient perch for a meadowlark. Something we picked for my mom when we were little kids, and she obligingly shook the ants off and put them in water until we forgot about them.
I came home from that trip determined to grow sunflowers on purpose. Beautiful sunflowers. And what a variety there was to choose from! Of course, I started with the big, variegated Italian blooms. Then it was on to fuzzy little Teddy bear sunflowers, heirloom Japanese Taiyo sunflowers, and the burgundy Velvet Queen. Sunflowers are well-suited to our climate and are very easy to grow. It’s a little addictive.
During the Colorado State University Master Gardener course, I learned that sunflowers are one of the most highly-evolved flowers. See, the center of the sunflower is actually a mass of individual flowers — that’s why they end up producing so many seeds. Unlike roses, which have one flower per bloom, sunflowers are compound flowers. This group of flowers, arranged in one structure, is called an inflorescence.
Late July through August is prime time for sunflowers here in the Grand Valley. The blooms have opened, but they haven’t started to keel over from their weight or the wind yet. The seeds have yet to form, so the birds haven’t pecked the blooms. There’s something about a newly-opened sunflower that is so incredible that I marvel at each one. Although the brilliance is short-lived, it’s worth capturing.
In August 1889, Van Gogh wanted to paint the brilliant sunflower blooms before they faded, so he worked on his paintings every day. His original goal was to paint a series of 12 paintings before the flowers died, but he only succeeded in finishing four. Of those four, he deemed only two worthy of sharing with his painting colleague Gaugin, according to The Van Gogh Museum.
I think of this story when I have the luxury of capturing the beauty of a sunflower with my smartphone. Instantly catching the precise moment when a bee circles the center of the flower, drunk on pollen. Adjusting the composition of the shot to use the brilliant blue Colorado sky for a background. I feel a little guilty that poor Van Gogh worked so hard on those paintings. I’m sure he would be out here every day taking photos, too.
If you don’t grow sunflowers, there are several varieties worth seeing at the Grand Junction Community Garden, next to the Mesa County Public Library on Fifth Street. Take your camera.