Sunflower – Ukraine

Sunflowers have quickly taken on new global significance.  They have long been the national flower of Ukraine, but since war broke out, Sunflowers have gained prominence everywhere as a symbol of resistance and unity.

The story of Sunflowers in Ukraine is interesting.  During the season of Lent, beginning 40 days before Easter, Christians take time to reflect on the life and death of Jesus.  The period of 40 days was chosen to replicate the days when Jesus withdrew into the desert for 40 days.

Since the original Easter, Christians have been encouraged to give up something for the 40 days of Lent.  Some might give up chocolate or alcohol.  Others might give up watching sports on TV.  And still others might vow to visit someone elderly every day.

A few hundred years ago, the Orthodox Church forbade the use of butter or lard for cooking during Lent.  At the same time, Sunflowers were gaining popularity in Ukraine, and the use of Sunflower oil quickly became a viable alternative.

Fast forward to this century when trans-fats were shunned, and Sunflower oil experienced another upswing. Ukraine is now a world leader in Sunflower seed and oil production.  Here in Canada that honour belongs to Manitoba where 90 % of Canada’s Sunflowers are grown.

It is my hope that we will grow and enjoy Sunflowers this year like never before.  I find it hopelessly frustrating that beyond prayer and donations to organizations such as Red Cross and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, we are incapable of doing much more.

Planting Sunflowers in our gardens will not stop the war in Ukraine.  Yet, if we filled our landscapes with Sunflowers, we would demonstrate solidarity with Ukrainians, showing love, concern, and a longing for peace.

Sunflowers are annual plants with easily recognized yellow flowers.  Sunflowers are heliotropic, a fancy term which means they turn their flower heads to face the sun.  At the end of the day, they turn their flowers to the east, ready for the rising sun.  Once Sunflowers becomes heavy, they can no longer turn their heads, and will soon flop downward.

The most common Sunflower variety is ‘Mammoth’ with its familiar giant yellow flower.  It can grow to over 10 feet.  Blooming time is late summer.  After flowers fade, the bloom holds an abundance of seeds ready for hungry birds.

 

Home gardeners might want to choose one of the many dwarf sunflower varieties, ranging in heights from 18 inches to 6 feet.  Ontario Seed Company, one of the largest seed packet suppliers carries 16 Sunflower types, with a range of colours, heights and blooming times. ‘Teddy Bear Dwarf’ growing 24 inches has round lemon-coloured blooms.  ‘Summer Moon’ has cream-coloured petals with chocolate centres, growing 5 feet high.  For a red Sunflower, choose ‘Velvet Queen.’

Grow Sunflowers in good garden soil where there is full sunshine.  At the end of May, plant seeds directly in the garden, about an inch into the soil, and watch them grow.  Sunflowers are heavy feeders and will benefit from any all-purpose plant food.  Add water if soil is dry.

 

 

 

Courtesy of DeGroot’s Nurseries

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