Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;
William Blake had something to say about sunflowers as do I today.
This Earthwalker wondering whether to turn its head to the dazzling full moon that we saw back in August...
Flicking through an old copy of Harper's Bazaar (I'm over it now and onto new magazine pastures) I came across a piece on flowers. It was authors various writing about their favourites I think, and as per usual I snipped out one fragment but not the rest which would have helpfully explained the whole. However the morsel that I kept, by journalist (I think) Hermione Eyre was about sunflowers, and sunflowers have been writ large in our consciousness again this year with plenty of them around the garden and vases full to the brim indoors.
I had no idea (but thank you Hermione Eyre) that sunflowers were planted in their millions around the Fukushima nuclear disaster site in the hope that they would purify the earth and reduce the caesium in the top soil; in fact apparently grass is much more effective at doing that, but imagine the joy that millions of sunflowers would bring to any landscape, let alone a devastated one. It sounds like a plan for inducing some optimism wherever disaster strikes, though now I am thinking too about the juxtaposition of the field of sunflowers and the catastrophic events surrounding the loss of flight MH17.
We have only really grown sunflowers properly for the last two years and I doubt I would ever leave the Earthwalkers out of any planting plan in future because it is true, as Hermione Eyre suggests..
'Their broad astonished faces and spiky leonine manes are cheerfully companionable...'
And it is like having a row of smiling happy giants in the garden as we watch them slowly rotate from east to west following the sun through the day, and this year the dwarf varieties have been wonderful too..
Sowing direct here is just offering the slugs a gourmet hors d'oeuvres so I sow two seeds per good sized pot and plant out once we are well beyond our mid-May frost date, and then Slug Watch must commence. This involves creeping out with a torch at about 10.30pm, when the critters think I am busy running a bath, and waging war (with salt and scissors...thank you for that latter trick Carol, they really don't like it) as they start their progress up the stems and along the leaves, and will do so until the stems get thicker, bristleyer and coarser, and clearly less favourable to climbing slime.
Then comes the feeding of the Sunflower.
I have now perfected the liquid Comfrey, especially since we saw it retailing for £9 per tiny bottle in the garden centre. Leaves - bucket - water and place it all about three miles away for a month because the smell is putrid. The result a month later is still putrid, but it is liquid putrid for which I brace myself, syphoning off the black sludge into old milk bottles before stashing behind the potting shed for the season. One cupful in a watering can and all those luscious underground nutrients, that the Comfrey's ten foot tap root have slurped up, make their way into the sunflowers which then grow like things possessed and we watch and wait. I was as early as I could be with the seeds in the greenhouse and the dwarf sunflowers were up and away and flowering in late June, the tall Earthwalkers were well into August and up to the roof before a flower appeared.
I came across this one, Still Life: Vase with Five Sunflowers also by Van Gogh...
I didn't know much about any of it and my thanks to this website for providing the details of a fascinating story
Still Life: Vase with Five Sunflowers was one of the original August 1888 series of paintings with which Van Gogh planned to decorate the Yellow House studio he would be sharing with Gaugin. I'm pleased to hear that Van Gogh's sunflowers didn't bloom any earlier than mine, but saddened that they likewise didn't last long enough for him to complete more than four paintings.
This painting was apparently bought by Japanese textile magnate Koyata Yamamoto in 1920 (for 20,000 yen...not sure how that converts to £ or $ in 2014) and only ever exhibited twice. On the second occasion its heavy frame was damaged when the painting fell from the wall and Yamamato was so enraged that he never allowed it to be exhibited again. Seeking safe keeping for the painting during the Second World War, and discovering that the humidity in a bank vault would be damaging, Yamamoto decided to keep the picture on the wall of his house in Ashiya...which is where it was sitting on August 6th 1945, the day that the city was bombed, and the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima just two hundred miles away. Yamamoto's house and the painting were both destroyed.
There's nothing and yet too much to say about all that, but if it is true I think in an oblique way it also brings this post back to where I started and those sunflowers at Fukushima.
But for now I am busy collecting seed for next year...
And thinking about all those sunflowery connections as I lean and stare out of the Potting Shed window ; connections of which I knew nothing until I started writing this post.
Dame Laura Knight loved sunflowers too.
I have been dipping into her autobiography The Magic of a Line, which I have now borrowed from the library twice, and on this second occasion kept for a total of nine weeks before they finally tell me I can't renew again and it must return. Copies are very hard to come by and ridiculously expensive if you do, so I shall miss this one, but I do love the thought of Laura and Harold sitting in their Lamorna garden through that pre-war summer of 1914...
'Harold and I were basking in the mass of sunflowes, bright lit as they were in the glory of the morning. They had been bought as dwarf plants, which beneath the tender touch of Cornish well being, had mounted to great height in their show of golden smiling faces...'