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.