It’s August, which not only means my birthday, but also a strange time for flowers. August is a month that can’t quite make up its mind as far as the world of cut flowers is concerned.
All our summer favourites, as as peonies, are disappearing, and our Autumn friends, like daillas and runnuculous, are already making an appearance. Yet many of us are still on our summer holidays, and the sun if still shining.
The ‘official’ flower of the month for August is the Gladioli. Which I always think of as a delphinium that’s slightly abusing the steroids. It can look magnificent, but had never been one of those blooms that makes me sigh. So the By Bethany Flower of the Month is the sunflower.
“You may know that the peony is Jennin’s, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is mine.” (Van Gogh, 1889)
I recently discovered, that the majority of people do not have the Van Gogh like obsession with sunflowers that I’d have thought they would. Indeed it appears that for many people, sunflowers are like marmite, you either love them, or you hate them. I have to say that I feel fairly ambivalent. I find single flowers hard to use in arrangements, as their large faces seem to create dead space, but a dozen in a giant cushion of wild foliage is beautiful.
Originally from America, where the Incas worshiped them as an image of the sun god, the sunflower, or ‘Helianthus Annuus’ (named so because it exhibits ‘heliotropism’, a propensity for turning towards the sun) has lead a rather unsettled life. Crisscrossing the continents, it was commercialised in Russia, where is became known as ‘Stalin’s Golden Gift’. The ‘Russian Giant’ variety was hugely popular, and their oil was first produced industrially in 1835, before returning to America where to this day fields of them are grown against the terracotta earth to be harvested for their oil, which is compressed from their seeds.
Mostly used in cooking, sunflower oil recently seems to have fallen by the wayside in fashionable kitchens, being replaced by such as coconut oil. However, being rich in omega 6, omega 9, unsaturated fats and vitamin E, I don’t believe it will ever be in danger of being forgotten.
How do you feel about sunflowers? A lover? Or a hater?