About 3 years ago this month, Derek and I went out to Wyoming to help Derek’s parents remodel a bathroom. Derek’s parents are very handy but they needed some help moving things around. While we were there, one of their neighbors gave Derek a bag of sunflower seeds that they had harvested from their sunflower garden. The bag included a large variety of different colored seeds. Each one would grow a different type of sunflower.

The next spring Derek decided to plant the seeds and put in his first sunflower garden. Our exchange student at the time was Michi, from Sardinia Italy. Derek asked Michi to help him get the seeds started in some small starter pots. Planting seeds was completely new to Michi. He was fascinated when Derek explained that all the information and energy required to grow a 6 to 7-foot sunflower was in those tiny seeds. All they needed was some good soil, water, sunlight and someone to take care of them. You forget that knowing how things grow is something you learn. I’m pretty sure Michi thought that vegetables and flowers came from a market.

The three of us watched the seeds sprout and grow\! By May the planter was full of huge sunflowers of all different varieties. By June the big sunflower heads were drooping down and they were done for the season. Shortly afterwards Michi was heading back home to Sardinia and Derek pulled the sunflowers from the bed.

Not long after that I noticed a new sunflower growing in the planter. It had re-seeded itself from one of Michi’s sunflowers. It grew all on its own and bloomed in December\! It was a variety of sunflower that has multiple heads on one stem. They are really beautiful, but top heavy. Derek decided to harvest the seeds from this sunflower since they were obviously pretty tough seeds\! He watched a YouTube video on how to harvest sunflower seeds. It seemed pretty easy, but he didn’t let the seeds dry out long enough and most of them tried to sprout in the plastic bag he was keeping them in. He was able to save a handful of seeds, and he planted them in small starter pots the next February so that he could put them back into the garden bed by early March.

They grew beautifully, but as soon as they bloomed, they all fell over because they were all top heavy with the multiple blooms on each stem. Aah yes, there was a reason why the first bag had a variety of seeds, they supported each other. Each one had a quality that made the group better. When it came time to dry the flower heads out before he harvested the seeds, Derek laid them out in the sun on the edge of the planter. I was watching from the window when the squirrels ran off with them\! By the time we had tracked them down they had been picked clean, not one seed left.

We had to laugh, even the squirrels knew that too much of one thing isn’t good. So back to the original bag of mixed seeds we went. It is the variety of everything that makes life so interesting. A formal garden is beautiful but a field of wild flowers is breathtaking. There is something profound and very natural about that.


Mark Ramey