Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sunflowers, Then & Now

For 10 years, I lived on the North Dakota side of the Red River of the North.  Minnesota was across the river.  For approximately 30-40 miles on either side of the Red River, is The Valley, a minute remnant of ancient Lake Agassiz, which eons ago covered parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, North Dakota & Minnesota.  Lake Agassiz is noteworthy today because of what it left behind in the Red River Valley: one of the finest agricultural lands in the world.  Top soil three feet deep, rich and oil-black.  Starting in late August, you can drive by whole sections of the grandest, tallest, most full-headed, classic sunflowers.  And it's true, they follow the sun, in the morning, thousands of sunflowers face east.  By sunset, they are looking west.

My first autumn in Galveston, I pleaded with a college friend to harvest a bunch of sunflowers from a field near her house, the non-oil ones, and mail them to me!  But when they arrived, upon opening the box, the Red River Valley didn't spring out.  Instead, there were nine forlorn, albeit large, shriveled up sunflowers nestled among the newspaper.  Something was lost in the translation.

I later discovered a constant supply of volunteer sunflower seedlings growing along the railway tracks that ended at the Galveston port.  I'd swing by the tracks on the way to the shrimp boats to harvest those wee sunflowers, my flower of choice for most of our dinner parties there.  

After a couple of giant catepillars ate all of our pepper plants, we gave up trying to grow edibles in the tropics.  It took Jim all of one summer just to excavate the rocky debris for a vegetable garden at the side of our Virginia house.  After importing top soil and other amendments, we planted the works, including sunflower seeds.  Birds ate them all before they even germinated.  I next planted seedlings, again, the infinite nearby woodland wildlife made short shift of those.  I even planted two foot tall vigorous plants that cost the earth at the local garden center.  ZAP-Gone too. That was twenty years ago.

Granddaughter's sunflowers!

Fast forward to last summer, when our granddaughter didn't want veggies growing in her garden, no wonder, she's not yet a fan.  Instead, she planted zinnias and sunflowers, plus a few strawberries.  She has the magic touch, for her sunflowers flourished, enough so we even spotted a couple of volunteers this spring, so we babied them along.  Although they are mighty tall, at least 10 feet!  The flowers are classic second generation sunflower offspring, middling flowers, yet flowers nonetheless!

Seeing the success of our granddaughter's second generation sunflowers, we planted a couple of packages of seeds in the only truly full-sun area of our garden, right outside our front door.  To our surprise they survived seedling-hood, only to be attacked by deer right before flowering.  Instead of caving, we gently pruned the gnawed tops, and began covering them each night with gossamer garden fabric.  Voila!!  Although these too are diminutive compared to the northland sunflowers of my memory, they fulfill a long-standing connection to our once grand North Dakota garden. 

Our daughters know how much I love sunflowers, so they often, just for the fun of it, bring me a bouquet of big, bold stunning sunflowers -they are an excellent cut flower too, for they last a good week, even two, if you trim then every other day, and give them fresh water!

I am reminded, in a small way, of Kristina, the wife of Karl, the Swedish couple in Swedish-born, American writer Wilhelm Moberg's series, The Immigrants.  Karl and Kristina fled a Sweden far different than the Sweden of today, for they'd almost starved the winter they finally decided to emigrate to the New World.  

Karl was a driven man, and to Kristina, who was a devout Christian, he'd been corrupted by the wealth he acquired in America as a very savvy farmer/land owner.  She ached for the country she left behind, and the strong Christian fellowship she had there.  Kristina carefully carried a little packet of Swedish apple seeds in their trunk on their journey to America.  They were the first seeds she asked Karl to plant, once they'd cleared their Minnesota homestead of pine trees.  On her deathbed, Karl gave her a taste of her homeland, one of their first Swedish apples.  

Front cultivated sunflowers


No comments:

Post a Comment