Diane Dean-Epps: The joys and perils of sunflower day care | TheUnion.com

Diane Dean-Epps: The joys and perils of sunflower day care

They’re impressive standing there all high, mighty … and alive. Wait, what am I talking about? My crop of sunflowers, of course.

From a $3.99 packet of organic sunflower skyscraper seeds grew an ensemble of healthy, smiling sunflowers rambunctiously waving in the wind, defying all the gardening odds when I’m the gardener.

How could I have known the low bar I’d set for even one of these exquisite pieces of flora to survive would flourish into a bounty of 25?

Their heliotropic little faces tracked the sun and my movements every day as I skipped amongst them, dribbling water from my shabby chic watering can into each little pot.

They began to feel less like plants and more like children to me. Can you say, anthropomorphism? Yeah, me neither. That’s why I’m writing it down.

I felt as though I was running a low-maintenance day care rather than gardening. (Snack time is so much easier when your charges are heavily into photosynthesizing.)

Then, things changed, or rather grew. That meant I had to implement what I call “growing rounds.”

What began as a general plan to cultivate one of my all-time favorite flowers because of the happiness quotient they provide turned into the proverbial labor of love. No, really. Lots and lots of labor.

I had lovingly placed a scientifically significant number of seeds into small growing containers and, lo and behold, they actually grew. That meant I had to concoct an on the fly second phase growing round, which found me transplanting 25 seedlings into pots large enough for them to thrive.

There was one problem. OK, there were numerous problems, but here are the top three:

1. I didn’t have any large pots. Not a one.

2. When I went to purchase them they were expensive as all get-out, and the 25 I needed quickly catapulted me right on out of my budget.

3. Even if I were to take out a small loan and purchase the pricey pots I couldn’t find 25 large enough for my soon-to-be-soaring sunflowers.

So, I got creative. I found cheap plastic vessels that found their way onto my husband’s massive daily honey do list under the heading of, “You’ll finally get some use out of that cordless, now priceless, battery-operated screwdriver when you drill holes in these.”

(This is why husbands of writers often ask rhetorically, “Is there any way you can write this down in six words or less?”)

He commenced to drilling, and I commenced to replanting. We had our work cut out for us, but we did it. There they were — 25 lithe plants of promise standing tall in their new plastic homes.

It didn’t take long before I was speed walking around the yard watering these stalks of sunshine and realized they had already grown several inches. Like overnight. That’s when it dawned on me how tall these potentially towering homages to nature might get, were they to live to full maturity. Against all odds, it looked like they just might. This meant there would need to be a third phase growing round with another repotting and more drilling of holes.

Off I went to score even bigger – if not better – containers that would herald the final growing phase because, quite frankly, I just couldn’t handle any more phases. I was already three phases over my personal best in keeping so many plants-sprung-from-seeds alive. No biggie. I knew the drill, and my husband had one.

Then the birds came. Who knew birds love eating sunflowers, sunflowers being a particular delicacy of finches? Well, color me educated now because I witnessed them tearing — tearing! — those precious teardrop-shaped leaves with their sharp beaks. I felt as though they were tearing at my own limbs, it was so painful.

Can you say, mirror-touch synesthesia? Yeah, me neither. That’s why I’m writing that one down, too. Although it usually relates to people, not plants.

Now I needed to launch a sunflower decoration program in the form of tying shiny ribbon on all 25 sunflowers. I sallied forth, determined to protect my adolescent plants.

Imagine my delight when birds attempted to land and then reacted by flying away immediately as if to say, “Uh-oh. This may not be a scarecrow, but I’m still feeling the scare part. I’m out!”

Then graduation day arrived. My sunflower daycare seedlings were all grown up and lined up. I was fondly looking upon 25 gorgeous Jack and the Beanstalk-sized stems topped by bright yellow faces, grinning out at me. I got to have five joyous days before a new problem came up. They were coming down.

One by one they all began dipping their heads in what I at first mistakenly thought was a reverent bow to my mad growing chops. In point of fact they had too much weight at the top. Not an issue I’ve had in my own life, but I’m mildly sympathetic.

That’s when I launched the Sunflowers At the Greenhouse Always (SAGA) relocation program. I moved 24 sunflowers — don’t ask why there’s one less … it’s still too soon — near the greenhouse, where they could really lean in. I doubt Sheryl Sandberg had sunflowers in mind when she came up with that inspirational imperative, but it’s a phrase I use when encouraging my sunflowers.

I counseled every sunflower to rely upon the greenhouse and their neighbor for support. I then trusted in the (new) process, went in the house, and put a cold cloth on my head.

As we speak, my precious collection of sunflowers remain upright, and they’re taller than the greenhouse roof. Forever may their sunlight-seeking heads wave.

Or at least for the next 6-12 days when their growing cycle ends.

Diane Dean-Epps lives in Grass Valley.

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