Several times in my gardening career I bought packets of sunflower seeds and planted them carefully in fertile, loose, well-watered soil. None of those seeds ever came to anything. On the other hand, I have had amazing luck with sunflowers planted by the birds.
Whether they drop the seeds by accident or by design, before or after passing them through their tiny digestive tracts, is a mystery to me. All I know is that every summer a forest of sunflowers springs up around the bird feeder. This year's crop was exceptional, but it is almost over by now. I have pulled up the dead stalks and the empty flowers and thrown them away, with one exception: the eleven-foot-tall sunflower.
This amazing specimen, planted by the birds in the narrow flower bed between the patio and the back porch, suffered heavy damage in a summer windstorm, which bent its stem about a foot from the ground. I assumed that it would die then, or at least ripen and wither on schedule with its peers. But even now, when all the other sunflowers are resting in peace on the compost heap, this one is still going strong.
Today, before clearing out the flower bed of its summer detritus, I intended to dispose of the bent-over marvel. But as I put the pruning shears against the inch-thick stem, something held me back. Not only did the plant have a number of ripening brown flower heads, but no fewer than seventeen Van Gogh-bright blooms. It would have been a crime against Nature to rip it out.
In its bent-over condition, however, it was impeding my access to the flower bed. I called my husband, and he dragged a ladder out of the garage, and I handed him a length of green baling twine and pointed upwards, and he fastened the sunflower to the porch's rain gutter.
Now it stands in solitary splendor at the end of the denuded flower bed, calling to the chickadees who planted it to come and feast on its ripening seeds.
I never knew that chickadees were farmers.