Is there anyone who hasn’t seen a print of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’? The great painter produced two series of paintings inspired by these looming floral giants, and reproductions of his work have adorned the walls of primary schools, doctors’ surgeries, public buildings and homes for generations. Glowing golden and orange they capture the imaginations of children and adults alike, and anyone who has driven through those ‘holiday’ parts of France where ‘tournesols’ grow in happy serried rows can’t fail to have had their own heads turned in appreciation.
Their French name – tournesol (tourner: French for to turn, and sol: Latin for sun) – describes the habit that the young flowers have of tracking the sun across the sky (heliotropism). This movement has even inspired scientists to develop more efficient solar-power systems.
If you want to know a little more about the rather brilliant way that sunflowers do manage to follow the sun, this great clip explains it:
But it’s not just Dutch masters and solar scientists they’ve inspired. ‘See-if-you-can-grow-the-tallest-sunflower’ competitions are, like the plants themselves, an annual event across the world. Normally, with a little care, plenty of fertilizer and lots of sunshine, a sunflower might reach around 1.5-4.5 metres, but Hans Peter-Schiffer would look on such a puny effort with a smug, if consolatory, smile.
A gardener from Karst in Germany (and clearly one with the very greenest of green fingers), Hans holds the world record for a sunflower he grew in 2014 – it reached a dizzying 9.17 metres (31ft 1in). That’s twice as tall as a giraffe! And giraffes may be precisely what you’ll need to bear in mind if you want to challenge Hans for that record. Sunflower Giraffe is a new variety that can routinely reach a neck-straining 5 metres. But if you fancy something a little more manageable, how about smaller strains such as Teddy Bear (at a cute 60-90cm) or Big Smile (at a Lilliputian 30cm)?
Once again Out of the Ark Music are challenging all primary schools to a Sunflower Growing competition.
We introduced this challenge last year to celebrate the release of our children’s musical There’s A Sunflower In My Supper
(ages 3-7). A school musical about Daisy the cow’s dream to grow a glorious garden, with 7 udderly adorable songs, a fun script and lots of opportunities for learning about the wonder of plants and wildlife – a truly delightful musical for kids to learn about the environment.