Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Took You So Long?

Helianthus 'Lemon Yellow'
All summer I've been anxiously awaiting signs of life from a pair of related plants that I planted last Fall.  Seduced last year by the high prose and beautiful photography of High Country Gardens into purchasing  and planting a pair of Helianthus maximilliana cultivars, I watched anxiously in Spring for the return of their foliage.  When they finally came up, planted as they were in my "native" wildflower area, which gets no extra water at all, I then spent the summer worrying that my single specimen of each would be cut down by some dastardly grasshopper, broken over by a rampaging dog, or that they just wouldn't make it through the heat and drought of this past summer.  But all summer, they grew, slowly and, to me, in an agonizing fashion, but they did grow, to their current four feet or so in height.  I was tempted several times to provide them a little extra water, but I'm proud to say that I practiced tough love gardening.

I expected them to bloom in late July or early August, but they never did.   I think that was all my mistake, assuming wrongly that most flowering plants stop developing buds here by October except for the asters and an occasional rose that tries to open in December. Recently however, as the leaves on decidious trees are changing color, the burning bush euonymous is already aflame, and the nights are approaching the low 40's, I noticed buds on both.  Buds which recently broke open for me like a heaven-sent promise that Summer will return next year.  

Helianthus 'Sante Fe'
My two Helianthus maximiliana  cultivars are ‘Lemon Yellow’  (pictured above right with its insect stowaway) and 'Sante Fe' (pictured at left).  'Lemon Yellow' is supposedly the daintier of the two, said to grow into a mature clump three feet by three feet, although vegatively, I still can't tell my two cultivars apart and both are at four feet tall with single stems at present.  High Country Gardens states that 'Lemon Yellow' "grows easily in hot, full sun locations."  Based on my experience with it this summer, I might not agree that it grows "easily," but it did survive the worse drought year I've seen here.

Maximillian Sunflower 'Santa Fe' should eventually grow to be an 8 foot tall and 4 foot wide clump, a warning to me that I've got it planted in the wrong place at present, but if it continues to survive, I can always divide and move it.  It blooms with large golden-yellow flowers as pictured, and the flowers seem to open from top to bottom on the single stem that I've got at present.  According to the High Country Gardens website, it is hardy to Zone 4 and should grow well in "any soil including heavy clay."  I can only hope that broad statement includes my limey-stony-clay soil.

Given time and a few years, I hope that both H. maximiliana clumps eventually become mainstays in the tall backs of my borders, fighting it out with the Miscanthus sp. to see who drapes over whom.  With the late bloom, however, I'm a little worried that an early frost might occasionally allow me only to enjoy the foliage however. This is my first attempt with this genus, although I've long grown a similarly tall False Sunflower, or Heliopsis helianthoides, which grows well for me and which I've divided several times over in my peony bed.  Now with the new Maximilian Sunflowers looking to make a stand, I guess I'd better prepare to have a much more yellow Fall garden than I've had in the past.  The only question is, do I want that much yellow?  Even in Kansas, one can overdo the sunflowers.


  1. I'm wanting to add some Maximillian sunflowers next year. I've been really impressed with how they've survived the disaster that this summer has been.

    My favorite asters, which would pair well with Helianthus maximiliani, are aromatic asters, Aster oblongifolia. HCG has a short cultivar with a light pinky purple color called Dream of Beauty that was the first to bloom for me this year. I've also got October Sky and Radon's Favorite, but I've lost the tags and I don't remember which is which any more. One's a little taller; both are extremely hardy and a very pretty purple with yellow centers.

  2. Funny coincidence, Gaia, but I'm writing on the native asters today.


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