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The Latest Dirt - July 2022

Sunflowers for Mom

By Val Simonetti

Photo by Val Simmonetti. Kate MacDiamond sits in her garden in view of her sunflowers.
Photo by Val Simmonetti. Kate MacDiamond sits in her garden in view of her sunflowers.

My mom says: Optimism is hard work. I'm happy to say that I've provided her with an ongoing source of interest and even joy. In early April I planted a couple of little plants that I thought would do well in her scorched-earth Inland Empire summer garden bed, which is only about 25 square feet. The Verbena bonariensis has already proven itself a winner in previous summers. It is popular with American goldfinches, who scoot acrobatically along the long, slender branches to get at seeds.

This year I trialed Helianthus annuus, aka 'Delta Sunflower.' It ticked off lots of boxes: heat tolerant, drought tolerant, vertical interest, attracts bees, birds, and butterflies. Suffice to say, Kate, my mom, has been texting me almost daily since mid-April on its progress: It's in a race with the Verbena to see who can reach the top of the fence. Leaving Verbena in the dust suddenly, it shoots up to 7' tall with the prospect of multiple flowers. Finally, it is a fully realized sculpture in her tiny garden.

The goldfinches find it interesting for an unanticipated reason: they like to remove little pieces of the lower leaves, leaving them decidedly tattered looking, while the Delta remains unfazed. One plant, situated where she can see it from her chair, is providing weeks of pleasure. I am more grateful to that sunflower than I can say. Of course, I've warned her that at any moment there may be a squirrel-related tragedy, but you don't get to 97 without a goodly supply of resilience and optimism. And she turns her face towards the light, like a sunflower.