"Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light," wrote poet Eugenio Montale. If you're crazed with the love of summer sunshine, why not decorate your world with tall, bright and colorful blooms? Sunflowers are native to North America, grow quickly, require very little care, and are edible for you, the birds and the bees, too. And there are varieties to suit any whim. Here are a few of our favorites to pique your fancy.
Strawberry Blonde sports subtly stunning petals that fade from deep rose pink to nearly white. Moulin Rouge is a deep chocolatey burgundy. Vanilla Ice, true to its name, is just about as white as sunflowers can get. Want to plant a bed full of mixed colors? Try Botanical Instincts' Flash Blend of certified organic heirlooms.
For Cut Flowers or Container Growing
Many hybrid sunflowers, and several heirlooms, are pollen-free, making them perfect for long-lasting flower arrangements. Almost any of the varieties listed here will be fantastic as cut flowers. If you're looking for the picture-perfect sunflower for cutting or for growing indoors, try the dwarf Sunny Smile, which will grow from six to 20 inches high and bloom year-round.
For The Birds and The Bees
Want to bring bees to your garden? Plant Lemon Queen. A bright, pale yellow flower with a dark center, it's so popular with bees and other pollinators that it's become a standard in bee research. Mammoth Grey Stripe, an heirloom with huge blooms, will produce pounds of seeds for the birds (and for you, too).
Don't overlook sunflowers' uses as food! Sunflower seeds are full of protein and may be a natural antidepressant. Plant Mammoth Grey Stripe or Giganteus, a high producer that doesn't need to be staked. If you're thinning, you can eat sunflower sprouts and steam sunflower buds like artichokes. And speaking of things that aren't artichokes, the Jerusalem Artichoke produces delicious tubers beneath its crown of flowers. They're a fantastic crop for a decorative garden, as you can enjoy the blooms in summer and dig up the food in the fall.
Image: Stephanie Carter