By Wendy Johnson Last summer in the Green Gulch garden, we planted a glorious "house" of sunflowers on our Family Day. We chose sunflowers from all over the world and started them in early March in our greenhouse. By the beginning of May they were ready to transplant. We asked the young people to design a secret garden house made of flowers where they could play all summer. The house was a great success! The children chose to plant in a circle. First we dug the earth and added compost. Then the children drew the blueprint for the house, spreading garden sweet-lime on the soil so they knew where to plant. The house was 12 feet in diameter with four pathways leading in. Two wider paths might be better since the sunflowers eventually closed them off. The center was left unplanted so the children could play games and have tea parties. We staggered the sunflowers, one foot apart.
You can also plant a rectangular house with one gateway. Plant two rows, also with staggered spacing, and sow heavenly blue morning glory seeds in between. The morning glory will twine up the sunflower stems and make a beautiful flower wall for the playhouse. Once the sunflowers grow tall, climb a stepladder with a friend on the opposite "wall" of the house. Tie a string around the upper neck of the sunflowers and send it back and forth to your friend, weaving a web ceiling. The morning glory vines will soon climb across the string and create a woven flower roof.
Sunflowers and morning glories do not love to be transplanted. We did it because of the ravenous, seed-eating birds of our farm. If you prepare your ground with good, aged compost or manure, you can plant directly in a small trench. Water every day and once your seeds sprout, keep them well-weeded. We recommend Russian Mammoth (the old-fashioned, huge-headed), Tarahumara White Seeded (single disc head with pure white seed), Prado Red (dark mahogany red, multi-headed), Gloriosa polyheaded sunflowers (multi-headed golden), and Mexican Sunflower Tithonia (bright orange). The best commercial seed sources are: Cook's Garden Seeds, P.O. Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148, (802) 824-3400; Bountiful Garden Seed Co. , 5798 Ridgewood Rd. , Willits, CA 95490, (707) 459-6410; Seeds of Change, P.O. Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87506, (505) 438-8080; Shepherd's Garden Seeds, 30 Irene Street, Torrington, CT 06790, (860) 482-3638 .
After we planted our house, we found a book full of wonderful ideas, Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages by Sharon Lovejoy, 1993, Interweave Press (800-272-2193). Instructions for planting a sunflower sanctuary are also available from Vaughn Lovejoy , 364 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT 841 11 . Happy gardening!
Wendy Johnson, True Compassion Adornment. is a Dharma teacher and a gardener living at Green Gulch Zen Center in Northern California.