This past spring, I dug up six feet of sod to plant sunflowers. Like a good homeowner who doesn’t want to get electrocuted, I called the power company first. Once the utility lines were spray painted, I set to digging, planting, and watering.
It’s been a dry, hot summer in the Midwest. I love to garden, but I’m a pretty hands-off plant mom. I’m a “throw your kid into the pool and they’ll figure out the doggy stroke pretty fast” kind of plant mom. I rarely water, I don’t spray for bugs, and I don’t fertilize.
But that doesn’t exactly work for sunflowers. Our lawn went into dormancy more than a month ago and some of my flowerpots dried up from uncareful watering, but you better believe that I was out watering my sunflowers every other day, because sometimes you need hope in something bigger and more beautiful than yourself. Something that you can control, at least a little bit.
The seeds came from a magazine centerfold, tucked in as a “freebie” to all the readers. The breed is “Mammoth Russian Sunflowers” and they were advertised to tower twelve to fifteen feet high.
I watched the seeds creep higher weekly. Some got eaten as tender seedlings by neighborhood animals. I figured that was my garden tithe. I’m used to paying in green beans to the rabbits who hold my garden hostage. Stalks thickened and stretched. Bugs made colonies in the pits of the stems and crawled up and down them like highways. Just as the heads started to peek out with a sign of gold, I noticed a squirrel eyeing them from the top of the fence.
The next day, two of my six flowers were decapitated, heads closed before they could even bloom.
I listened to Jenny Lawson’s FURIOUSLY HAPPY this past month, and it made me sob and laugh alternatively– and nod a lot. I have mild depression, which at times this summer has felt less mild. The lack of routine in the summer and the state of the world certainly don’t help. I find joy when I’m busy, so I made my sunflowers one of my projects.
I had just finished FURIOUSLY HAPPY on the day of the decapitation, and I went out to the garden while the last few chapters played in my ears. One of my sunflowers was blooming, and at its feet, one of the decapitated flowers was blooming too, detached from its whole.
I marveled at the palm-sized flower for a moment before picking it up. Its base was sticky with a kind of sunflowery sap where it had been torn from the stem. It was beautiful– and very, very sticky. Seriously, that stuff could replace rubber cement.
On a family vacation this summer, we went to the Arbor Day Farms in Nebraska City. I took a wagon ride around the sprawling property into the field of already blooming sunflowers, thinking about mine back home still growing. The tour guide told us that sunflowers are often planted to clean the earth, as they remove poisons like arsenic and even uranium from the soil.
I’m planning on doubling my plot next year.
One funny note before I close. I had a hard time titling this post. At first, I wrote The Audacious Hope of Sunflowers, but that felt like an Obama plagiarism. I looked up “audacious synonyms” and got this list. You can feel free to sub in your favorite adjective. Mine, personally, is cheeky. I also like smart ass, because that stickiness really was hard to wash off.