This is an article about my pops who has always been one of the best gardeners I know. Makes me so proud. I can blame him for my penchant and love for growing flowers and being in the dirt. There was always loads of color in our front yard growing up, which is quite a nurturing thing. Thanks Pop for all your inspiration! I wouldn't be growing without it.
Towering sunflowers grown by local gardeners delight passersby
Last Modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 10:04 p.m.
With exclaims of “Wow!” and “Cooooool,” walkers and drivers are stopping in their tracks and craning their necks to check out the sky-reaching sunflowers growing outside a bungalow near downtown Hendersonville.
The crop of sunflowers that Anne Hansley and her partner Walker Pruitt are growing in their front yard this summer are heading into the 15- to 18-foot range.
When the duo planted the giant variety of sunflowers in late spring, they didn’t know what they were in for, Hansley says.
“Both of us have never seen them this tall before,” she says with a smile.
The sunflowers didn’t even begin to bloom until the they reached the porch roof, which is at least 10 feet high. And they’ve just kept up their skyward ascent.
“I’m 5-foot-8, and they’re at least twice as tall as I am,” says Hansley. “They just kept growing and growing.”
Last year, Pruitt planted sunflowers on the North side of the front yard, in partial sun, with less colossal results.
The East-facing cottage, at 311 Buncombe St., is between Third and Fourth avenues, in view of the Main Library’s parking lot.
Hansley believes the flowers are loving the morning light — soaking up the unobstructed sunshine before the noon hour.
When the green flower heads of this year’s sunflower crop finally burst into blooms about two weeks ago, Hansley noticed the happy flower heads were following the sun. In the morning, the young flowers faced the dawn. By evening, they had turned to face the setting sun.
Unfortunately, Hansley fears some of the plants’ stems may have grown too thick now — a few stems are at least a couple inches in diameter —to continue changing direction with the sun’s rays.
Hansley and Pruitt enjoy the comments people passing by their home make about the sunflowers. And delighted neighbors check on the sunflowers’ growth every day.
“They’re eye-catching,” says neighbor and friend Mary Jo Padgett. “They really make a show of themselves.”
Padgett has been watching the sunflowers’ progress on her daily morning walks. The flowers are also visible from her home’s front porch on.
“I wasn’t sure what the plants were at first, and then suddenly there they were big sunflowers,” Padgett says. “They even provide shade for Anne’s porch.”
Hansley has seen mothers pushing strollers stop in front of her home to show their tots the blooming giants in all of their splendor.
Nothing special has been added to their soil, says Hansley. And Pruitt only waters them lightly — whenever he douses the hanging basketson the wrap-around porch.
Of course, large sunflowers are thriving in other gardens in Henderson County.
It’s not uncommon for specimens to grow to great heights in this area, say Jan and Walt Chase, Master Gardeners, who volunteer at the local North Carolina Cooperative Extension office.
Another fine example of tall sunflowers can be found at thethis summer, they note.
The sunflowers at the Sandburg Home are about 10 feet tall, a fair bit behind Hansley and Pruitt’s downtown giants. Janene Donovan, a Park Service ranger at the Flat Rock site, says their sunflowers were grown from an extra large seed variety and thrive on soil amended with manure from the Sandburg goats.
The tallest sunflower on record was one grown in the Netherlands, according to the National Sunflower Association. That sunflower, grown in 2004, measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
And Hansley and Pruitt’s experience with the sunflowers tracking the sun is also explained by the Sunflower Association. When sunflowers are in the bud stage, the buds tend to track the movement of the sun across the horizon, the association says.
“Once the flower opens into the radiance of yellow petals, it faces East. No one knows why,” the Sunflower Association says. “However, it is likely a defensive response. Facing south or west could result in sun-scalding of seeds during very hot days.”
This isn’t the first time that Pruitt and Hansley, who owns Lighthouse Medical Solutions, a provider of diabetes testing supplies and other medical equipment on Justice Street, have gotten attention for their green thumbs.
The duo’s gardening prowess was rewarded last summer when their yard won a first place residential Landscaping Award from the City ofHendersonville’s Tree Board.
They installed their eco-friendly yard four years ago. It balances a variety of colors and textures, and is virtually maintenance free.
After considering grass for their front yard, Hansley followed Pruitt’s advice and instead installed awalkway, and a number of other edibles including basil, parsley and variegated thyme.
The property was also featured in ECO’s Green Home Tour last year for its drought-resistant landscaping that features plants such as lavender, dwarf spruce, dwarf maple, day lilies,and lamb’s ear.
Butterfly bushes successfully attract winged insects, and peonies give showy flowers in the spring.
A mile or so from their bungalow, just minutes from downtown, the dynamic couple is also raising fresh produce on another 2.5 acre property they call Let It Bee Farm on Blythe Street between Sixth Avenue and Highway 191.
At Let it Bee Farms, Hansley and Pruitt raise chickens and bees and grow a variety of veggies — from potatoes and peppers to squash and the native Pawpaw plant. They also grow goji berries, elderberry and Concord grapes.
Hansley traded a pile of mulch for the grape plants last year, which are now producing in abundance.
“The grapes grow on an ugly cyclone fence — which gets a lot of sun,” says Hansley. “I look for places that look like places the plants want to be.”
Pruitt, who once owned a natural foods store, Oasis in Chapel Hill, was also involved in private label manufacturing and brokering natural foods for big supermarkets.
He’s been busy planting some late summer season crops with his 11-year-old grandson, Christian, who is visiting from New Bern.
“These tomatoes will be ready in September,” says Pruitt, pointing to plants poking about 5 inches above the surface of dark, rich soil at Let It Bee Farms.
Walking into a carved-out mulch pile, Pruitt lifts several large, light green leaves to reveal a perfectly formed bird-house gourd.
The gourds and pumpkin plants that were sown on the composting mulch piles tumble down the slopes, thriving in the moisture and nutrients the leaf mounds offer.
A shaded forested area houses the logs inoculated with shiitake spores, ready for production.
Hansley hopes to one day harvest wild mushrooms, including truffles — eventually, when they have more time for farming.
In a structure similar to a Community Supported Agriculture arrangement, Hansley offers produce from the farm to her employees at Lighthouse Medical.
“We allow employees to opt in for $20 a month during the season,” she says. “They can have all they want of this non-pesticided fresh produce,”
Lighthouse Medical then matches the $20, and pays Let it Bee Farms.
The farm is so productive, the couple also sells some of its veggies to some downtown Hendersonville restaurants — West First Wood-Fired Pizza, Square One, and Mezzaluna.
Just down the road from the farm, the urban growers plan to add tilapia to a lake already stocked with bass beside some rental property they own.
One day they hope to farm some property near, too.
For now, the couple looks forward to another week or two of joy from their happy, albeit temporal, crop of sunflowers.
Says Hansley: “They’re not going to last long.”