Every year I grow sunflowers in my garden. I love sunflowers, their bright, cheerful faces make me happy, and it’s satisfying watching them grow bigger so quickly.
One year, our kids planted seeds side by side and waited to see whose flower would grow the tallest. They named their sunflowers SpongeBob and Patrick.
My bedroom window looks out to our backyard. I was enjoying a cup of tea one morning when something caught my eye. SpongeBob was at the window bobbing happily in the breeze on his 13-foot stem. Days later, Patrick was peeking through too.
Every day when I drew the curtains, I’d smile at my kids’ giant, cheeky sunflowers. Funny how the simplest things can bring so much joy.
“Look at its shape, with vibrant yellows and oranges, a sunflower can brighten your day… it’s as if it is smiling like a happy face painted on the sun…so if you do only one thing all day, let it be to smile, so you can brighten the day of others around you, just like the sunflower.”
― Bodhi Smith
As the year moved from fall to winter, fierce winds snapped our beautiful lilac tree in two and blew down a fence in our backyard. We talked about having a new one built but didn’t have the spare cash that year, and our neighbours weren’t bothered. Neither family had young children or pets to worry about, so we removed the broken wood, and our two yards merged.
In springtime, I plant sunflower seeds in pots and randomly in the yard. After our fence blew down, I thought it would be fun to replace it temporarily by planting a row of sunflowers between our gardens.
I bought a package of giant sunflower seeds and enlisted the help of my son and daughter. Together we poked holes in the soil and planted the seeds. We watered our fence every day and waited for it to grow.
There’s an enormous maple tree shading most of our backyard. The sunflowers we planted near the left end of the fence had no choice but to grow mainly in the shade with only brief exposures to sunlight. These flowers were shorter, with thinner stems and smaller flowers. We had to support the little ones with bamboo stakes, but they continued to reach bravely towards the sky.
With a thin, curved stem, one sunflower was unable to hold itself up and had leaned over to the more sturdy flower beside it. The larger plant was strong enough to provide a resting post for its neighbour and supported it as the flowers grew.
When fully grown, the fence was an uneven height. From left to right, the sunflowers were progressively taller. The flowers at the far right were the biggest, with thick, strong stems and large flowers.
There were many gaps, and the fence certainly wasn’t strong enough to keep anything in or out. Cats, dogs, squirrels and bears went about their business as if nothing was there while the soft, summer breeze wafted gently through the stem posts.
Our living fence wouldn’t have won any awards, but it was interesting to look at. The sunflowers were unique, with tall, short, weak, strong, straight and curved stems. Some had more than one flower; others had more petals or leaves. The flowers were different shades, and all were beautiful.
The sunflowers had one thing in common — they all faced the same direction — towards our neighbour’s house. At first, I was slightly peeved that we got to see mostly the back of the sunflowers’ heads while our neighbours could see their sunny faces. But then I had to laugh — you can control some things but not others. I wondered if our neighbours enjoyed looking at our silly fence and if the flowers made them as happy as they did me.
“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me, that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
— Tim Firth, Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls 2003 Movie)
Looking at the fence one day, I realized we have a lot in common with sunflowers.
Some people have a natural advantage simply because of where they started life and grew up. Most people will thrive in a good environment with nourishment and loving care. Some need more support than others. We’re all different, and there’s a place for everyone in the sunflower fence of life.
Grow a sunflower this year, or buy a package of seeds for a child — it will bring a ray of sunshine and make you happy.
Gill McCulloch, March 2021
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