Oh, Sunflowers!

More About Sunflowers

By Engrid Winslow

Sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Gorgeous Sunflower Photo Courtesy of Christy Short

Sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) are such a great annual for so many reasons. First of all, they are so darn cheerful with their big, bright blooms during the hottest part of the summer.  They are also easy to grow.  Just poke them into the ground and keep them well-watered until they germinate and then stand back because they thrive in rich soil and heat.  The pollen is loved by bees and the seeds are attractive to birds.  Sunflowers come in so many varieties with sizes ranging from 12” to 15‘ tall and the colors vary from pale lemon yellow to bright yellow, orange, red and bronze.  The petals can be single, double or in fluffy multiple layers (check out Teddy Bear Sunflower).

Tag for Teddy Bear Sunflower packet with bushy foliage has multiple 3 - 6" golden-yellow, double blooms

It can be fun to watch the birds eat the seeds or you can make a fun project out of roasting them. To do this: soak the seeds in salted water for 24 hours, then roast in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper at 350 for 35 minutes, stirring frequently. Let them cool and store in an airtight container. If you want to serve them warm after roasting toss them with a bit of melted butter for a delicious treat. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin C, E and are high in fiber which supports digestion, they also contain antioxidants, magnesium (for bone health) and can help lower cholesterol.

The roots of sunflowers have an allopathic quality which inhibits the ability of other plants nearby to grow properly. This makes them a great choice for weed suppression but keep them away from other flowers that you love.

Half awake sunflower photo courtesy of Christy Short.

Half Awake Sunflower (Photo Courtesy of Christy Short)


Ask Me Anything

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

Ask me Anything

About gardening that is. That’s what I tell people when I’m looking for blog ideas or a little fun.

So the answer this week in the form of a question was from my friend Jim:

“Why do sunflowers follow the sun but then all die facing the same way?”

That was a puzzler. I had to look that one up…fortunately there was just an article in August in the journal Science.


Sunflowers do follow the sun as long as they are still growing. The start off facing east and follow through the day facing west at sunset. Overnight, they grow and face east by sunrise.

This has long been known to gardeners and scientists…but Science answered WHY they do it. Because flowers that face the sun are warmer and attract more pollinators than those facing away from the sun. Well, that’s a good way to make sure you are pollinated. Very clever Mother Nature.

But then there’s the question of why they all face East when they die. It’s actually much simpler than that. Sunflowers only follow the sun as long as they are growing. Once they reach their full mature height, they no longer grow taller. The main stem thickens and hardens and no longer moves with the sun. It stops in a position facing East. So that’s naturally where it dies. Why? Again, it’s just to entice the pollinators. An east-facing flower warms up earlier and stays warmer longer during the day when most pollinators are feeding.

The one exception to this rule? Wild sunflowers. They have so many small flowers at all kinds of angles, they face every which way. Their leaves tend to follow the sun while growing, but the flowers are all over the place.


So, thanks for the question, Jim.

Next! Ask me anything you’ve wondered about gardening.






Today is the Day we Worked all Year for…

Garden is at it’s Peak

by Sandy Swegel

Most of the time in the garden I’m analyzing and thinking about what to do. What has to be done before it’s too late (weed thistles before seed heads mature), What should be done today (harvest zucchini before it’s a full-sized bat), What to do this evening (do some small batch preserving or dehydrating),

What to do before tonight (have row cover ready for tomatoes if there’s a danger of frost), What to do before the end of the season (cover crops in), etc. etc.

But today here in zone 5 Boulder Colorado, everything in the garden is at its peak.  The nights are getting cooler so frost will kill things soon.  Leaves are just starting to turn and pumpkin stands are popping up on rural roads.  I realize how many great things are ripe in the garden.  This is the time when everything tastes best. Wow. Then I realized. This is it. This is the day I worked in the garden all year for. So I decided that just for today, I’m just going to appreciate the perfect bounty nature has given me and not try to improve it, process it, or save it for the future.

Just for today

I’m not going to do anything useful in the garden. Today is more a day for celebration. Like when you watch your kids graduate from school or get married,  today’s the day to feel proud and look at the accomplishment and bask in the success. Turmoil and trials, tears and laughter. In the end, it’s all worked out.

So here’s the plan just for today. (Or maybe just for all weekend.)

– Get the camera out and take some snapshots of the garden.  Get somebody else to take a picture of the gardener holding a basket of harvest.

– Pick some grapes one by one and just suck on them and spit the seeds out.  The flavor is perfect sweetness and tartness.

– Eat the most perfect tomato while it’s hot from the afternoon sun.

– Nibble on flowers of broccoli and arugula going to seed.

-Fix dinner by doing as little as possible to the food.  Heat up the grill to roast some vegetables:  small zucchini and patty pan squash, cloves of garlic, small red onions, tomatoes, a late-maturing ear of corn, an apple or pear. All on the grill with just some olive oil and salt.

– Chill the cucumbers and radish so they will be the perfect palate cleanser for the roasted vegetables.

– Spend the late afternoon looking at the garden as a work of art.  Just for today, golden leaves and even browning foliage are just color and texture. Not something to be cleaned up or composted.

Just for today, it’s all perfect.

The food is all good. The air is fresh. The sun is still warm. Wild asters are in full bloom. The sky is really really blue.  Today is the day we worked all year for. Today is the day the garden is just perfect. Nothing to add. Nothing to change. Nothing to do except enjoy and appreciate. And the gardener? Just for today, she’s perfect too.  She and Nature have had a great year spending time together.

Best Heirloom Vegetable Seed

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Ancient Wisdom from Women who Grew Vegetables

Buffalo Bird Woman

by Sandy Swegel 

I learned the story this week of Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Indian born around 1839 in the Dakotas. She and the women of her tribe were the ones who did all the farming from breaking hard ground to heavy harvesting and transporting. Toward the end of her life, she gave interviews about how her people had farmed sunflowers and corn and beans, and how they preserved and even seasoned them. It was the work of women. Her stories always start with phrases like, “My two mothers and my sister and I went out to the field…” or “My grandmother Turtle would break the hard new ground with a stick.”

But Buffalo Bird Woman was also a scientist in her approach and gives detailed information about creating soil fertility (and softening the ground), about the timing and order of planting. Unlike the stories we hear of other tribes planting beans and corn and squash into single holes, the Hidatsas had an elaborate system that included sunflowers. They also planted in rows and pre-sprouted their corn and had a strict timing system.

Here was how you knew when to plant corn:
“We knew when corn planting time came by observing the leaves of the wild gooseberry bushes. This bush is the first of the woods to leaf in the spring. Old women of the village were going to the woods daily to gather firewood; and when they saw that the wild gooseberry bushes were almost in full leaf, they said, “It is time for you to begin planting corn!”

I think you’ll find it delightful to meet Buffalo Bird Woman. There is a children’s book based on her childhood called Buffalo Bird Girl.

There are even recipes for good warrior food like sunflower-seed balls.

Buffalo Bird Woman’s story of the practice of agriculture among her people is available free online at the Upenn digital library: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/buffalo/garden/garden.html

An interview with her was also included in the PBS series, The Sky Above Us.” http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/program/episodes/eight/tospeak.htm
At the end of her life, the practices of her people modernized into Western ways, she bragged:

I think our old way of raising corn is better than the new way taught us by white men. Last year, our agent held an agricultural fair… and we Indians competed for prizes for the best corn. The corn which I sent to the fair took the first prize… I cultivated the corn exactly as in the old times, with a hoe.
Buffalo Bird Woman


Pick More Daisies

Daisy Love

by Sandy Swegel

Every January in the middle of some snowstorm, I find a good reason to wander the BBB Seed warehouse to marvel (and covet) huge sacks of seeds waiting to be sorted into packets. There are big sacks of grasses and tiny bags of rare alpine wildflowers. I noticed this year that a whimsical employee who loves daisies had created a shelf of shoeboxes of different seeds that all looked like daisies. What a great idea for a cutting garden!

I started a simple search on our website to see how many daisy or daisy-like flowers we carried and I soon discovered that we are quite obsessed with daisy-type flowers. I found eight flowers named “daisy” and the number soon reached over 25 when I included flowers that look like daisies.

There are good reasons to love daisies beside the fact that they are adorable. Many daisies are also drought tolerant, native, not subject to many pests or diseases and are favorite nectar sources for butterflies and bees.

A short list to get you started on a daisy garden are the flowers with a daisy in their names:

Yellow Daisy (Chrysanthemum multicaule)
Daisy, Shasta – (Leucanthemum maximum)
Daisy, Painted – (Glebionis carinatum)
Daisy, Gloriosa – (Rudbeckia hirta, gloriosa)
Daisy, English – (Bellis perennis)
Daisy, Aspen – (Erigeron speciosus)
Daisy, African – (Dimorphotheca aurantiaca)
Orange Mountain Daisy (Helenium hoopseii)

Then you can move on to the daisy-like flowers such as
Orange and red gaillardia,
Purple and pink echinacea,
Blue and purple asters, and
Two annuals much beloved in American gardens:
Cosmos in pink and white and candy stripe and Zinnias in all colors and sizes.
Finally, cap the season with Sunflowers!

All I can say is, “Hey, Head Honcho Mike! We have a seed mix of poppies (Parade of Poppies). Maybe we need a seed mix next year, “Field of Daisies!”

Photo credit

Pick More Daisies
Best Heirloom Vegetables
Wildflower and Grass Mixes
Native Grasses


4 Fun Pumpkin Décor Ideas for Halloween

Our Favorite Ways to Use Pumpkins

Who doesn’t love the bounty of fall? Particularly pumpkins! Pumpkins are versatile, fun, stylish, elegant and creative. There are so many fun Pumpkin décor ideas because they can conform to the look and feel of just about every home personality.

Looking for a few ideas this Halloween? We’ve got you covered.

Mini Pumpkin Tablescape 

Elegant, festive and great use of those mini pumpkins, this fall tablescape can elevate any table! Just take your favorite mini-pumpkins and gourds, add some candles and fall foliage remnants. Check out the tutorial here.

Halloween to Thanksgiving Centerpiece


This amazing Halloween centerpiece is so elegant it would work straight through Thanksgiving. Carve out the center, choose your favorite flowers and voila! Find the entire DIY tutorial here.

 Jack-o’-Lantern Flower Vase


This pumpkin turned flower vase is spookily awesome! Perfect for celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1st and every day until then. Brighten up your jack-o’-lantern with a helping of Asters, Goldenrod, Sunflowers or anything you want to use to add fun fall color.  Grab this tutorial here.


Coming Soon: Grand Finale of Color

Coming Soon: Grand Finale of Color

by Sandy Swegel

Quit tidying up.

There’s something you seldom hear. Sanitation in the garden is important year-round, but September is special in that we are slowly building up to the grand finale of Fall Color that changing leaf color brings. You can help make that more spectacular in your garden.

Leave colorful fruit where it falls.

Keep the leaf blower locked up. This is the time to let the red hawthorn berries litter under the tree.  Likewise, crabapples and plums can be beautiful fallen amid leaves. In the vegetable garden, pick the huge squashes that are past their prime, but leave a few gnarly yellow gourds or huge white patty pan squashes next to the plant to show off in the crisp fall light.

Plant fall plants.

Fall blooming crocus are sending up vivid purple heads now. I’ve spread them around so they come up like wildflowers here and there. I do the same with fall mums at the garden centers. I pick the smallest pots I can find and plant them here and there throughout the garden…like little mushrooms of bright color popping up.

Water if it’s dry.

Lots of places had a drought this summer so you need to water to be sure that trees and perennials go into winter well watered. You also want to water so that the last leaves on plants stay in place and turn color instead of just drying up brown and falling off. A fall garden that is too dry just desiccates into brown ugliness.

No more deadheading.

Let the rose hips turn brilliant orange on spent flowers.  Leave the finished sunflowers in place for little finches to land on.  Keep picking up diseased leaves and apples so rotten they call every raccoon in the neighborhood to gorge. But otherwise, get out the rocking chair and wait for the show.

Photo Credits: http://shysongbirdstwitterings.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html


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Growing your Own Bird Feeder

If You Feed the Bugs, You Feed the Birds

by Sandy Swegel

I learned something really new this week. This week I learned that birds like to eat bugs. Well, duh, you say.  Think about it. One of the great images we have of spring is the mama bird dangling a worm over the gaping beaks of adorable baby birds. Then think about our typical bird feeders….full of sunflower seeds.

I was in the middle of converting a neglected path of weedy lawn into a flower bed and was thinking about “habitat” for birds. So I naturally considered sunflowers and plants with seeds or berries.  Then the teachable moment came at a talk our County biologist gave on native plants. She pointed us to Douglas Tallamy’s book “Bringing Nature Home Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants”. Tallamy points out 96% of North American wild birds feed their young with insects and larvae (caterpillars). Now the adult birds – like humans — may like the high fat, high sugar treats (berries) we give them…but it’s the protein in the bugs that is so important to sustain our bird populations.

Previously, I thought the point of planting native plants was because they were adapted to our local soil and weather and would survive better. But the real reason to plant natives is to feed the local beneficial insects (lady bugs, lacewings, moths, and all the little tiny flying things you can barely see) that live here already and who do the hard work of eating pests like aphids and thrips. They also do a lot of the pollination in our garden along the way.  Lots of insects means more pollinators for our flowers and more food for the birds – in other words, a healthy habitat.

So if you want to feed the birds, you need to feed the bugs. Nice plump insects, worms, and larvae are what bring more birds to your yard. Yum, Worms…it’s what’s for breakfast!

Learn More:

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants: http://tinyurl.com/a9voelq

The New York Times article on Tallamy: http://tinyurl.com/yqmlhx

Saving Birds Thru Habitat website: http://tinyurl.com/bfeljl2

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes


Grow Your Own Flower Arrangements

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

Giving and receiving flowers is one of the great joys of Valentine’s Day. Everyone, men and women, adults and children, loves to get flowers and for a gardener, it’s easy to have an abundant supply of flowery love to give away.  As you’re planning your garden now, be sure to have a supply of flowers that make great arrangements.  Here are some suggestions of what to grow.

When I worked for a garden center with a flower shop I learned some secrets of garden design. The first thing florists do when making an arrangement is to fill a vase with water and the greens they want as the foundation of the arrangement.  Then they added in filler flowers like baby’s breath and tiny asters or sea lavenders.  This is also when curly willow or other woody filler went in. With all those fillers in place, the vase is packed and you can insert some of your show-stopping flowers here and there and they stand tall and well-spaced in the vase.

So the first step to growing your own flower arrangements is to grow your own fillers.  You need sturdy greens like ferns or peony leaves or azalea leaves. Herbs like sage or tarragon also are good green filler. Other favorite fillers will be wildflowers with lots little flowers.  Annual baby’s breath always looks great as do wild asters, sea lavenders or clumps of blue flax.  Multi-stemmed flowers are also good supporting flowers.  Bachelor buttons and daisies work well as do columbines and a stem or two of penstemon. Think nice airy wispy kinds of flowers.

The Divas
Now that you have a vase full of greens and supporting flowers, you can choose a few show-stoppers to pull it all together.  Showy perennials like roses, peonies, lilies or annuals like dahlias or sunflowers are the high impact flower.

I did start growing flowers as a way of saving money. I could create great gift arrangements by clipping a few blooms here and there.  But I did need something to put the flowers in.  Mason jars work well plus I learned that thrift stores always have an abundance of vases for $1. Putting the flowers in a vase means you give the beauty of the flowers and your own artful touch in the arranging.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  As gardeners, you know how giving and receiving flowers evokes and shares the love so plan your garden so you can give flowers all year long.

Wildflower Seed Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes