One of the nicest (and sometimes the most frustrating) things about gardening is the unexpected. In the garden, one of the more pleasant experiences that can manifest itself is an opportunistic crop or plant. For instance, this year an ornamental squash started in my bed where I planted Swiss chard in the spring. So far it has delivered 15 squash with at least another 6 on the way in the next few days. At Green Chimneys this year our opportunistic plant is not squash but sunflowers.
Three years ago we planted three different types of sunflowers: Moulin Rogue (all red), Gigantuous (big and yellow) and Ring of Fire (red in the center, yellow on the edges.) But since then we have not planted a single sunflower but we keep getting more and more sunflowers in the garden with each year. This year they were as thick as chickweed and we needed to pull out a lot more than we would have liked to.
But the interesting thing about these sunflowers is that only a few bear any resemblance to their elderly relatives. We have many different shades and configurations of red and yellow sunflowers in the garden because they have been cross-pollinated with a different cultivars for three years running. So a wild variety of flowers has bloomed with different heights, colors and flower configurations.
We have a couple of sunflowers in the garden that are over 12 feet high with a single defiant spike daring the squirrels to climb and eat (like the one to the right). Others have formed big clumps with small, but tall flowers.
But perhaps the strangest was the mutant Teddy Bear sunflower that appeared a few weeks ago. At the top of one of the large clumps, about 8 feet in the air was a Teddy Bear sunflower blossom about the size of a small seedless watermelon. Teddy Bear sunflowers grow to a maximum height of two feet, with a smallish flower. This was not your typical teddy bear: it’s a grizzly.
“This must have cross pollinated with a Teddy Bear that was planted in the barrels down by the administration building [about a half mile away],” said Tracy. “It’s pretty cool looking.” Tracy and I agreed to try and save the seed of this big flower so that we could see what its offspring will look like next year.