GAR­DEN­ING

Spring is on its way and Sue Bradley is tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the sun­flower fields of south­ern France

Living France - - Contents -

Sue Bradley ex­plains what to do in the gar­den this month, plus an Open Gar­den in Dor­dogne

Fields of sun­flow­ers are a sure sign of sum­mer in the south of France; an eye-catch­ing sea of yel­low cap­tured in count­less pho­to­graphs. This mem­ber of the Aster­aceae, or daisy, fam­ily is na­tive to the Amer­i­cas and ar­rived in Europe dur­ing the 16th cen­tury, although it wasn’t un­til the 1970s that farm­ers in warmer re­gions such as Provence started grow­ing it as a crop, with seeds go­ing on to be crushed for oils and the as­so­ci­ated meal used for feed­ing an­i­mals.

The French name for sun­flower is tour­nesol, mean­ing ‘turn to the sun’, a ref­er­ence to the way in which the heads of younger plants be­gin the day fac­ing east be­fore grad­u­ally turn­ing to the west, although by the time they’re fully grown their po­si­tions are fixed.

Farm­ers se­lect the best cul­ti­vars for oil pro­duc­tion when they’re buy­ing their seeds, but for gar­den­ers there is a much wider choice.

Yel­low may be the best known colour for sun­flow­ers, but their blooms can be red, or­ange, green and even cream.

They come in a range of sizes, from the lofty ‘Rus­sian Gi­ant’, ‘Tall Tim­bers’ and ‘Gi­raffe’ to shorter spec­i­mens such as ‘Big Smile’ and ‘Waooh!’ for the front of a bor­der or even a pot.

Some, such as ‘He­lios Flame’ and ‘So­lar Flare’, pro­duce sev­eral heads on sin­gle stems, which makes them ideal for cut­ting to dis­play in vases.

Many gar­den­ers save vi­ta­min E-rich sun­flower seeds for eat­ing, although ‘Tasty Treat’ also pro­duces ed­i­ble leaves, flower buds and petals.

And while most peo­ple treat sun­flow­ers as an­nual plants, which means they need to be sown ev­ery spring, it’s pos­si­ble to grow peren­nial types such as ‘Year on Year’.

Sun­flow­ers not only look great but are ben­e­fi­cial to wildlife too. Seeds, es­pe­cially those with soft black shells, pro­vide a use­ful source of food for birds, while nec­tar-rich blooms are fre­quently vis­ited by bees.

Th­ese sunny blooms are also easy to grow, which makes them a great choice for chil­dren.

Plant sun­flow­ers un­der cover from April, bring­ing them on in pots of com­post and trans­fer­ring them out­side once the ground has warmed up suf­fi­ciently in late May or early June. Al­ter­na­tively wait un­til the threat of frosts has passed and sow them di­rect out­side.

Sun­flow­ers can be grown in a wide range of soils, although well-drained types that warm up quickly in spring give the best re­sults.

Use stakes or some­thing sim­i­lar to sup­port es­pe­cially tall sun­flow­ers and pre­vent them from top­pling over, and use some form of slug de­ter­rent to pro­tect young plants.

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