Sunning with sunflowers
Published on: Sunday, October 06, 2019
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NORMALLY, flowers of every conceivable shape, size and colour, are always much cherished by everyone.  Even the toughest tree-killers and plant-haters can admit to having a soft spot for flowers, such as roses, orchids, yellow bells or masses of flowers of Quisqualis or Garlic Vine.  When grown in sufficient numbers, the visual impact of such flowers can never fail to elicit loud howls of ‘oooohhs’ and ‘aaahhhhs’.  This is possibly why flowers are almost always used by people to be shoved forward when they kneel down in trying to woo their gorgeous hunk.

With the larger flowers, the desire to take a second look, or even to own some, is even greater.  Take for instance when driving through the cool highlands of Kundasang near Mount Kinabalu, the existence of attractive flowers never fail to excite tired eyes.  But sadly, to this day, little has been done to tap into the concept of floral power that, unsurprisingly, is a mega-buck business all over the world, except the local scene.  

In fact, in the established highlands, the flower gardens are so well developed that they grow practically every variety that could possibly be grown, to the extent that foreign tourists and local visitors are falling over each other to visit such colourful places and have great numbers of snapshots taken.  Even if only just a couple of varieties are strategically placed and planted at suitable locations, it is possible to draw in countless number of visitors.  

The Cherry Blossom in Japan is one good example of flower power in action that never fails to attract millions of visitors.  

Another example is at Nami Dao in South Korea where they had two long rows of tall trees which are often used as a backdrop for filming or when taking selfies or photographs.  

Just this background alone regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and foreign tourists caught on by Korean soaps, and in the process, cash registers are ringing non-stop in a hot and sizzling frenzy.  It is believed the economy of these areas are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, which could very well be happening in Sabah for the benefit of Sabahans.

Therein lies one secret in the path to enrich the local community by maximising on local peculiarities and attractions, and leveraging on visitor wants and needs.  There is no need to stump out billions.  Just budget a few bucks here and there, get the horticulturists with the ideas to make full use of nature to enhance the flora and greenscape, and the multiplier effect will automatically generate good returns for the people.

As has been regularly highlighted in features and documentaries programmes such as National Geographic, wild life or other nature programmes, flowers are capable of playing a great role in enhancing the tourism potential of any place.

 Unfortunately, within the local scenario, little has been done to capitalise on flower power as a tourism pull.  Statements and noises can yield nothing unless something solid is done.  In this respect, the ancient saying that ‘a journey of a thousand miles (li) starts beneath one’s feet’ rings true.

Around Kundasang, there is a god-send known as Angel’s Trumpets, with a scattering of them everywhere, and producing large pendulous flowers of yellow, white or orange.  Without doubt, the flowers are incredibly visually impactful.  

Just imagine if there is a million of them apportioned over several places along the road.  Passers-by, loaded tour buses, cars and vans will certainly take a break to gawk at the massed effect of such flowers, take some selfies, and perhaps look for a gerai or warung to have a cuppa, and buy some hinava or bosue before moving on.  In time, the gerais will expand, and then more gerais will crop up, and so on.  

Many people who are scraping for a living will soon have full stomachs and overflowing pockets, all due to the pull of flower power.


Sunflower is the eye-catcher

Apart from Angel’s Trumpets, other very colourful and attractive flowers that exude a powerful floral impact include Yellow Bells, Tabebuia, Quisqualis, Golden Shower, Garlic Vine, etc.  Certainly not to be missed is the gorgeous Sunflower or Helianthus annuus.  Just rope in the horticulturists la, and they will surely share their knowhow and skills happily.

To attract more visitors, more striking flowers of the larger kind need to be cultivated and displayed.  One very effective way is to grow huge numbers of the colourful sunflower which will certainly be an effective way to draw in hordes of people with gawking eyes to ogle at such lovely flowers, while at the same time blasting away with their cameras or handphones.

When visitors are happy, they tend to splash more.  The result is that there will be a win-win situation for everybody, the taxman included.  A lot of people will be laughing all the way to the bank.

With that in mind, a look at the sunflower will tell you that the plant obviously deserves a place in your garden, no matter how crowded it may be.  

One of the reasons why sunflowers do not fear to be crowded out is that of its height.  A Standard sunflower can reach a height of 1.5-2.5 metres which means it can easily outstand many of the ornamentals in your garden, except for trees and the bigger shrubs.

Even when cultivated in pots, the plant can do just as well.  There is usually no problem with a single or two of standards in a single pot, but hybrid dwarfs or compacts with multiple branches are more suitably grown with a single plant in a single pot.


Varieties of sunflower

Within the genus of Helianthus, the common name ‘Sunflower’ usually refers to the popular annual namely Helianthus annuus, which is also often known as the ‘Common Sunflower’.  This variety is outstanding as it stands out to be one of the most distinguished and brightly coloured among the many varieties.  

There are many other species of sunflower-like plants within the genus, but most of these do not differ very much from each other except for the height of plant and size of flower.

For instance, some gardening enthusiasts may have standards reaching up to 4.0 metres in height with flower diameter of 20-30 cm, while miniatures may reach only 1.0-1.3 metres in height.  The newer hybrid dwarfs are even shorter, with very much smaller flowers.

Generally, the modern varieties are shorter and more compact and shrubby, compared to the traditional standards which are known as the tall type.  Many of the shorties are bred and selected for characters that are related to good branching habit, sturdy form and compact shape without affecting flower quality.  

As flowers are borne at the terminals of sturdy flowering shoots that are more at eye level or even lower, this means that the advantages with compacts can be translated into less cases of neck strains when viewing and enjoying the beauty of the flowers at sunflowerland.

Nowadays, there are so many choices of sunflowers to choose from that it can get to be quite a hassle when it comes to choosing the variety to grow.  Some growers may like the plain, traditional single-flowered types while others may prefer the fluffy, double types, which are definitely more popular.  

While most people still believe that sunflowers come only in golden yellow colour, the fact is that over the years, many newer colours have been introduced for the enjoyment of plant lovers.  These include white, lime-coloured, pink, bronze and maroon.  Certainly, these are the colours that are seldom seen as far as growing the sunflower locally is concerned.

With these wide range of selections to choose from, there is no reason why the warm and sunny sunflower should be left out in the cold.  Being the bigger plant with the much bigger and brighter flowers, it should be a good choice to go for when planning for colours.


Sunflower for bright colour

As everyone knows, the garden sunflower is a terrific plant that adds colour and distinction to any unkempt garden.  The plant is easily distinguished by its height with shoots each bearing a large, brightly coloured flower.  In the old days, the selection was limited in terms of size of plant or colour of flower, but today, there is a multitude of choices from which to make your pick.

Sunflowers are large, flowering composite annuals that bear massive compound flowers.  This enables it to stand on its own as an ornamental in any garden or planting container without the possibility of being overlooked or missed.

Often, the plant is grown individually especially if it is of the larger varieties, although it looks just as good when grown in clumps of from three to five plants per clump.  

As a bedding or border plant, the sunflower is simply wonderful, for when it comes to flowering time, it is extremely satisfying to see a long, broad swath bathed in yellow, bronze, maroon or white.

Sometimes, sunflowers are grown along the fence or simply to indicate a line of demarcation.  Such planting is always resplendent and gorgeous, and it can never escape one’s eyes, especially if they are designed and planted with a stunning planting pattern.  The most breath-taking is when a large area is fully planted with sunflowers so that when they flower, it would certainly appear to be a sea of yellow.


Starting sunflowers from seeds

Seeds are easily available and can be bought in small packets from supermarkets, nurseries or your local agricultural supplier.  Old flowers yield a certain amount of viable seeds, and these can be used to carry on with the next generation of plants.  The newer hybrids normally require new purchases to be made to maintain standard and quality.

Each flower is compound in nature, being actually made up of lots of small individual flowers or florets packed closely together into a large head.  Seeds can be removed from an old, shrivelled flower head by tearing it apart.  Oftentimes, they are toasted in an oven, shelled, and then ground in huge numbers in the mouth, and then washed down with your favourite beverage.  

At one time, chomping on sunflower seeds was a favourite pastime especially when busily engaged in empty gossip during “bla-bla-bla” sessions, thus messing up entire towns.  Fortunately, many cleanliness by-laws have put an end to that although empty talks still continue elsewhere.

Sunflower seeds can be grown in germination boxes and the seedlings transplanted later.  An alternative is to sow the seeds directly onto the spot where it is meant to be grown.  In this instance, direct sowing is most suitable for use in container cultivation.  

This saves time in transplanting and also it eliminates transplanting shock and reduces casualty.

On the ground, it is usual to sow the seeds directly into the soil on well-prepared planting beds if the sunflower is planned to be grown as a bedding plant.  Alternatively, if the ornamental is to be grown in individual clumps, then each site should be given from five to 10 seeds.  

The soil should be prepared in the usual way as if for bed cultivation, and richly fertilised.  When the seedlings come up, they may then be progressively thinned to leave the best three to five plants in each clump.

However, when the sunflower is intended to be a border plant, then each planting point should be given3-5 seeds, and when the seedlings appear, retain only the best one to three plants, depending on how thick you want the border to be.

 The distance between each planting pint is also highly variable, for it can be as close as 0.3m and as distant as 1.0m.

Sunflowers are quite hardy and tough, but they can droop easily if not given enough water.  

The big eye-catching flowers are always a wonder to behold and although they are seldom used in floral arrangements, they are nevertheless quite attractive and lasting if they are cut and taken in early.

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