One of my most vivid memories of traveling around Sicily is driving past vast fields of sunflowers. I love their bright yellow color, and fat flower heads. At our flower shop, we use sunflowers in get well arrangements because they are so cheerful. Our younger son selected several sunflower seed packets, and I concurred even though they didn't fit with our vegetable theme. We settled on "Mammoth Gray Stripe" from Botanical Interests, hoping they'd tower over the vegetable garden and attract lots of bees and butterflies to help with pollination.
Sunflowers are supposed to be one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed, but I don't have a great track record. Several years ago, I planted seeds in our front yard only to see birds diving into the dirt the next day to dig up and eat the seeds. I don't think a single seed survived the attack. I decided to outsmart the birds this year by starting our sunflowers in pots. I have become very skilled at starting seeds, and generally have excellent results, but these seeds didn't produce many seedlings. I planted the rest directly in the garden along the fence that borders our driveway and they germinated perfectly. This year the birds didn't try to dig up the seeds, and we soon had a row of sunflowers growing along the fence.
The sunflowers took a long time to grow, but eventually we started to see flowers opening. I should have staked the plants once they started towering above our 6 foot fence, because soon after the flowers opened, the stems started drooping and sometimes even snapping under their weight. I cut off one of these flowers, and couldn't believe how heavy it was. No wonder the stems couldn't stay erect.
When I dissected the flower, I discovered a dense bed of sunflower seeds hidden underneath the center. It was a bit of a chore to free the seeds from the flower, but it was a fascinating process and I extracted a bowl full of seeds from just one flower. I went online to find a recipe for roasting the seeds, and we're going to try that tonight. We still have about 30 flowers in the garden, so we'll soon have a lot of seeds to roast and eat. It turns out the sunflowers really do belong in the vegetable garden.