Steele: Sunflowers, birdsong welcome us at this time of year

I feel truly blessed by my natural companions—flora and fauna.

Yesterday I had a strong sense that fall was in the air.

As I puttered in my garden, I realized it was not so much the cooler, moister air (which I definitely welcomed), but the delightful chatter of dozens of songbirds that created this impression.

They were busily filling up on seeds and likely bugs as well, as they fatten up for cooler weather and migration for some species.

Sunflowers received the most attention, especially from goldfinches, chickadees and house finches.

I haven’t planted sunflowers in my gardens for about six years. They always seed themselves. I leave them unless they’re going to crowd out something else or are in a pathway.

They grow in dry, part shade but tend to be small and spindly. In an irrigated, sunny vegetable garden they become enormous, stout-stemmed plants with many huge flowers.

This year I had many sunflowers self-seed in my drought-tolerant test garden.

It’s my most challenging garden: extremely hot, west-facing, sloping down to hot pavement. Any moisture in the sandy soil is instantly sucked up by a large weeping willow.

I gave this area an inch of water in one good soaking mid-summer. Otherwise it has relied on rainfall.

The ground is mulched with wood chips.

Native bunch-grass and wildflowers have gone dormant here but, to my astonishment, this year sunflowers are thriving. In the past they have been poor and spindly. My theory is that these off-spring of previous years have gradually adapted to the harsh conditions.

With this in mind, I plan to sprinkle a variety of seeds, in spots where the mulch is thin, to see what will be tough enough to grow there next year.

I’ll likely try native asters, yarrow and brown-eyed Susans as well as amaranth, marigolds, zinnias, sweet William, cosmos, gloriosa daisies and feverfew.

They are seeds collected from my other gardens so are already somewhat adapted to conditions here.

Sprinkling seeds in the fall mimics nature. In spring, as soon as there is enough warmth they will begin to germinate in the moist soil giving them a good start to developing a strong root system before dry weather comes.

I’m notoriously erratic with watering seedling beds in spring so the seeds that can germinate and thrive with just mother-nature’s attentions are the ones most likely to succeed in my gardens.

Red amaranth is a very substantial plant that provides masses of bird seed all though winter so I hope it adapts to the extreme dry conditions.

The other sound I noticed yesterday was the background rhythm section to all of the bird song—the steady hum of bees and other pollinators in late blooming flowers.

I felt truly blessed by my natural companions—flora and fauna.


Saturday, Sept. 28, Friends of the Summerland Ornamental Gardens are hosting a Fall Garden Tour. Check for details.

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