Stunning New Sunflowers
One stinking hot day in February I went to see Keith White’s sunflower breeding field. In a leased paddock on a farm only a few kilometres from Lambley the world’s best sunflower hybridiser plies his trade. Keith, a qualified geneticist, has spent much of his working life breeding new strains of agricultural crops such as canola. A couple of decades ago he started work on sunflowers as an ornamental crop and over the years has developed world beating strains. Keith has mostly developed lines for commercial cut flower growers. His sunflowers are pollen free so they last longer in a vase than older strains. They aren’t just good cut flowers they also make superb garden plants.
The day I visited was incredibly hot and I felt sorry for the half dozen workers who were hand pollinating the flowers in the middle of the windswept paddock. (The biggest wind farm in Victoria is nearby). To keep his strains true two lines are grown of each strain. One line has pollen and this is transferred to a line which is pollen free. The fertilised flowers are bagged so that no bees or other insects can do some hybridising of their own. The resulting seed produce a strain which is true to type.
Some strains have a single flower to a stem and many cut flower growers prefer these. I grow (and sell) the spray varieties which if well grown will produce up to fifty flowers on a plant. Each one will flower in the garden for six to eight weeks. I sow sunflower seed every few weeks from October until January so that I get a very long flowering period. It’s far better to sow sunflower seed straight into the garden.
As I write in mid-March we have eight beds in full flower, each bed has a different variety and the colour ranges from pale lemon to rich burgundy. Visitors to the garden have been astonished by the brilliant flower colours and the number of flowers on each plant.
The flower and vegetable garden is looking incredibly beautiful and dreamy now and many visitors are saying that it is looking the best it has ever looked.