Name: Perennial sunflower.

Botanical name: Helianthus spp.

Family: All sunflowers are members of the daisy family, the Asteraceae, which is not too surprising because sunflowers have a daisy shape with colourful ray florets around the outside of the flower to entice insects to come and pollinate the fertile flowers in the central disc. They have the colour and shape of the sun in a child’s drawing and, remarkably, they track the sun during the day East to West to benefit from the sun’s ripening rays.


The giant sunflower is immensely popular due to its remarkable rate of growth, reaching 3m or more in a single growing summer. Its large sunny flowers can be 30cm or so in diameter, the central disc carrying hundreds of large sunflower seeds, much enjoyed by seed-eating birds. The giant sunflower is an annual plant which means that it lasts just one growing season and seeds must be sown each year if sunflowers are wanted but the sunflower’s perennial cousins last for many years and flower profusely each summer and autumn.

While a lot of flowers are produced by these perennial cousins, they are smaller in size than the giant sunflower. But what they lack in flower size they make up in numbers and the plants carry lots of bright yellow flowers, many more that the annual sunflower.

Like the giant sunflower, they make big plants with stems to two metres and more. So they need to be well placed in the garden, especially if space is limited. Tucked away at the back of a border, their tall stems will wave with golden sunflowers for many weeks in late summer and early autumn. They have a lovely autumnal air to them, the yellow daisy flowers setting off the autumn colour of leaves.

One of the very best is ‘Lemon Queen’, which is shown in the photograph, growing to about 1.5m tall. This variety has lots of relatively small flowers, though still about 8cm across, carried over the top half of the plant from late summer through into autumn. The colour is a brighter lemon-yellow than most sunflowers, which tend to be deep yellow. The flowers of ‘Lemon Queen’ are of a very pretty shape with petals nicely arranged.

‘Capenoch Star’ is about 1.5m tall too, also with lemon-yellow flowers and the flower centres made composed of quill-shaped florets. ‘Triomphe de Gand’ has large rich deep-yellow sunflowers, with a darker centre. In the popular variety, ‘Loddon Gold’, the flowers are fully rounded out as double flowers, resembling the shape of chrysanthemums.

‘Soleil d’Or’ also has full, double flowers, not as rounded as the other and of nicer shape. These types are relatively well-behaved, spreading out to make a clump but reasonably slowly and they are easily controlled. Even so they are on the large side for many gardens, but they suit a country garden well and are worth the space for their bright flowers late in the season.

Any of the perennial sunflowers can be planted in autumn or spring in any ordinary garden soil. Match them up with shrubs or other perennial flowers of similar vigour. The lovely electric-pink Salvia involucrata and the deep navy blue of Aconitum carmichaelii are very effective partners and between them provide a great show of late colour.

More than a garnish


Fennel seed

Fennel is one of those herbs that produces vastly larger quantities than ever are likely to be used in the kitchen. Mostly, it is used as a garnish, though it can be used in soups and even as a fresh salad ingredient. But fennel can grow to 2m or so from new shoots pushed up in springtime.

But luckily, fennel is decorative as well as having food value. The leaves are very finely divided and almost fern-like, soft to the touch. At this time of year, the leaves begin to turn yellow and are shed, leaving the statuesque seed-stems. The seeds are shed as the stems dry out. The seeds can be used as a spice, and they can be chewed, reputedly effective in preventing flatulence. The self-sown seedlings are usually very decoratively positioned, and look exceptionally well in winter.

This week’s reminders

Vegetables, fruit and herbs

Lift and store potatoes and carrots now for winter use if not already done. Remove old vegetables. Parsnips generally keep better when left in the ground. Prune raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. Parsley can be covered in the open ground to protect it.

Trees, shrubs and roses

Root-balled evergreen trees can be planted now. All kinds of pot-grown trees and shrubs can be planted too. Rambler and once-flowering climbing roses can be pruned, if not already done, by taking out the old flowered shoots.


Finish off planting all kinds of spring bulbs as soon as possible. Change over pots and hanging baskets to winter and spring colour. Divide early-flowering perennial flowers, and plant new plants. Lift dahlias, begonias and gladiolus in frosty localities to prevent damage or cover them with soil.


If moss a problem, sulphate of iron can be used to set it back. Test the application on part of the lawn first. Continue mowing as late as possible, as long as the ground is not squelchy.

Greenhouse and house plants

Reduce watering of houseplants and stop feeding. The compost should be slightly dry. Pick the last tomatoes and ripen the bigger green ones indoors. Keep the greenhouse tidy and occasionally ventilated.

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