EVEN now, after three score years and six, I still marvel at how a poppy can grow from a microscopic sphere, how a mighty oak comes from a little acorn and how a handful of runner bean seeds can feed a family within weeks of being planted.

So, what better way to interest children in growth, care and the cycle of life than planting helianthus annuus which produce an eye-catching stem that grows by the day, wonderful flowers and then thousands of seeds.

But, choose your sunflower variety carefully. If you want it big, with a single heavy-headed bloom, choose Russian Giant — as we did for our patio — growing in its tub and supported by canes.

Sunflowers, justifiably one of our best-loved flowers, now come not just in yellow, but rusty red, green, white, orange, maroon, bi-colours and a dark, almost black chocolate brown.

Isle of Wight County Press: Sunflower Black Magic from DT Brown.

Sunflower Black Magic from DT Brown.

One of my favourites in the border is Black Magic, from seeds-people DT Brown. Like all sunflowers, bees and butterflies love this multi-branching hybrid which flowers very freely and makes a great cut flower too.

Another multi-branching hybrid is the dark red and golden yellow bi-colour Ring of Fire which produces six inch wide blooms aplenty.

There are so many varieties now including perennials, giants and dwarfs which will be less than 2ft tall in maturity, so choose wisely. Dependent on the variety, they can take between 11 and 18 weeks to flower from seed sowing.

Isle of Wight County Press: Sunflower Ring of Fire from DT Brown.

Sunflower Ring of Fire from DT Brown.

So, if you want a display, rather than a single specimen bloom, it’s a good idea to sow seed every fortnight for a constant jolly show that will delight birds too after the seeds form.

You wouldn’t believe it but sunflowers need a sunny spot. They appreciate shelter from damaging winds and, whether grown in the garden or a container, add plenty of well-rotted manure or compost. The big varieties will undoubtedly need support.

Unfortunately, snails and slugs love sunflowers as much as we do and they do not restrict their greed to tiny, immature leaves. They will happily munch holes in big, leathery foliage too after slithering up the stem, so take precautions.

Isle of Wight County Press: Sunflower Russian Giant.

Richard's sunflower Russian Giant.

Sunflowers are easy to grow, most varieties germinating well. Sow seeds in individual pots from April and plant out when nights become warmer.

Keep plants well-watered and give them a weekly feed to encourage them to reach for the sky and multi-stemmed varieties to flower freely and delight all, not least the children.

  • Sunflowers are related to Jerusalem artichokes. If you plant Helianthus tuberosus and let them flower, they will bear beautiful, if diminutive, sunflower-like blooms.
  • Some Latin plant names are, shall we say, all Greek to me. But ‘sunflower’ is a direct translation from the Greek, Helios meaning sun, Anthus flower and annuus annual.

Horticultural show news:

As things continue to crank up to new ‘normal’ Freshwater Horticultural Society has organised a scaled down summer show of dahlias, flowers, fruit and vegetables.

Covid-safe public viewing is from 2pm today (Saturday) at Freshwater Methodist Church in Brookside Road. A small voluntary donation to the society will, I am sure, be appreciated.

Richard's top tips:

Now is a good time of year to treat leatherjackets and lawn chafers with nematodes.

White powdery mildew on plants normally develops at this time of year. If possible, remove the affected leaves and spray with a fungicide to prevent further spread. It won’t be terminal but it will affect yield.

Look for aphids on the underside of leaves — rub them off by hand or spray with an insecticide to prevent them multiplying. Alternatively try using a natural pest control such as lacewing larvae. 

Protect your crops with a bird scarer made from CDs tied to strings on canes.

If you have a glut of autumn raspberries, blackberries or loganberries, freeze them on trays for a couple of hours and bag them up for future use.

Tidy up strawberry plants and remove any old straw from around the plants to improve ventilation and reduce the risk of pests and diseases.

Damp down your greenhouse on hot days to increase humidity and deter red spider mites.

Have you got a gardening query - or some garden event news - for Richard? If so, email him on richryde@tiscali.co.uk