Grit Blogs > Waking up in Kansas

A Mutant Grows in Kansas

By K.C. Compton

Tags: sunflower, giant sunflower, sunflower bouquet, bad gardener, Taylor Miller, , K.C. Compton,

A giant mutant sunflower is growing right outside my back door, in the whimsically named “garden” around my fence. There’s really not much to say about this giant mutant sunflower except, “Holy Moly, that’s some honkin’ big sunflower plant!!!” I hardly ever allow myself the indulgence of exclamation points, but if ever there were a time for them, the appearance of this sunflower would be it. 

Please note: From the “All Hat, No Cattle” Department: This bad boy is all plant, no sunflower – so far, at least. If it does finally work up an actual flower or two I’ll never know it because it’s now too high for me to see to the top.

Giant Mutant Sunflower 

This plant is, without exaggeration, at least 12 feet tall now. That fence beside it is 6 feet tall, and the plant has grown another foot or so since I took this photo last week.   

I have no idea why this particular sunflower developed a wild hair and started reaching for the sky. Maybe it always dreamed of being a beanstalk. Maybe one of these days fairy tale characters will come tumbling down it into my yard. Maybe a little speck of radioactive dust landed on that one piece of ground just as it was starting to grow. Maybe smokin’ big mutant sunflowers like this are fairly common and I just don’t know about it. If that is the case, I hope Constant Reader will let me know (with photos and we’ll share them).

I have several relatively tall sunflower plants back there (nothing like the giant mutant), a foot or so taller than me, and here’s the really weird thing: None of the sunflowers on that side of the garden has grown a single blossom. A couple of buds are straining to blossom now, but that’s pretty much it for the dozen or so plants on the east side of my yard. On the west side, I’ve cut lots of pretty sunflowers, both ‘Moulin Rouge’ – my new favorite variety – and several ‘Lemon Queen’, which I harvest every few days for flower arrangements for my house. But on the east side? Nada. Zip. Zilch.

 For numerous reasons, my garden sort of didn’t happen this year. After moderate self-recrimination (“Bad gardener, bad, bad gardener…”) I have now chosen to be philosophical about that fact and use what actually did happen as coaching for next year. One lesson is that sunflowers are quite transitory when used as cut flowers and only last a couple of days indoors before they go all droopy and sad-looking and spit pollen all over the table. Next year, the garden going to be all about flowers (no, I really mean it. NO TOMATOES), so any suggestions for cut flowers that stay nice and grow in an extremely neglectful home would be welcome. I’ll still do sunflowers, but enough with the mono-crop already.

Sunflower bouquet with Taxi tomatoes 

 My friend Taylor  tells me that my eastern crop is growing plants without flowers because I have too much nitrogen and need some phosphorus.  Another lesson learned is to test the soil before I plant, and to test several areas of the garden when I do. I could swear I treated all the tilled-up space equally, but apparently the chemistry on the east side was significantly different from that on the west side to begin with. So, next year, I’ll be methodical. No, really.

 But look at it this way: If I had been all methodical and scientific about how I approached my garden this year, we would have missed this great occasion for Wow!!! So at the very least, my haphazard, inconsistent ways did have a silver lining.

And who knows? Maybe Jack will come tumbling down that sunflower stalk any day now. Maybe he'll love dogs, be about my age, have most of his teeth, a reliable source of income ...

 Bad gardener. Bad, bad gardener.    

k.c. compton
8/10/2011 3:24:50 PM

It does, indeed, have a bud at the top, so I'll have to see if my Canon has a telephoto lens. I think snapdragons and zinnias next year sound perfect. I had intended to grow some zinnias this year, but time escaped and ran away from me ...

cindy murphy
8/10/2011 10:58:49 AM

Wow, KC! Hope you post a photo when that mutant's bud opens! The sunflowers I planted this year are just starting to bud, but the volunteers from last year's seed dropped by the birds having been flowering for a couple of weeks. The gold finches are all over them; they're the reason I plant sunflowers actually, and they are no doubt dropping plenty of seed for next year's crop too. As for other good cutting flowers for next year's garden, zinnias, and snapdragons are colorful, easy to grow, and long-lasting as cut flowers. If you want to go the perennial route, no-muss/no muss "must-haves" are coneflowers, goldenrod, and yes, even daylilies (each scape has multiple buds, so though the open flowers last only a day, a vase filled with a bunch of multi-budded stems can last weeks!) Oh! And I always let some of my parsley go to flower (this year all of it), because it makes a great filler in a vase, or is a pretty, airy bouquet by itself.

k.c. compton
8/8/2011 9:05:55 AM

Mutant update: It appears to have put on ONE little bud way at the tippy top. And, of course, it seems to have grown another foot over the weekend, thanks to a few spits of rain. If it goes ahead and flowers, I'll save the radioactive seeds and share them as far as they'll go. It really is something. (And thanks, Liz. You're right, of course. Dorothy is always up there looking for ways to come back to the Land of Ahhs. :-] )

nebraska dave
8/6/2011 6:19:13 PM

K.C., that's some sunflower for sure. I grew some giant sunflowers many years ago but they didn't get that big. Most of my flowers here on the Urban Ranch are spring flowers. Crocus, daffodils, tulips, Iris, and peonies have a great display until June. Then it takes awhile for the Hostas kick in with their flowers. I did plant the poor man's patio living trellis with Impatiens and Begonias this year. They have put on quite a show all summer. They even made it through the blazing hot July weather. Hey, if you're giving away giant mutant sunflower seeds, I'll take some. It's always good to have a garden change up once in a while. Don't you think? Have a great GRIT editor day.

liz black
8/6/2011 2:32:25 PM

I suspect it will not be Jack who tumbles down your sunflower stalk, but Dorothy. There's no place like home.

mountain woman
8/6/2011 2:21:42 PM

Oh, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!!! I'd LOVE to have a seed and encourage this mutant behavior to extend beyond this year. Who knows you may have started a new variety you'll get to name.

k.c. compton
8/5/2011 3:45:23 PM

Well, if it DOES happen to bear flowers at some point -- I mean, it COULD decide to flower at the end of August -- I'll save the seed and send you some if you want. Although I don't know if I should encourage this behavior. (Of the sunflower, not of you. :-] ) --KC

mountain woman
8/5/2011 3:42:39 PM

I adore sunflowers and I am most envious of your mutant. I only planted the giants this year and supposedly they are going to be 12 feet tall but they have a long way to go. Anyway, congratulations on producing such an incredible plant. Yes, you are right. Not being methodical often has benefits.