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PO Box 858 Firestone, CO 80520

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The backyard sunflower forest

In the early 2000s, I remember driving down 66, 119, and other nearby roads, seeing acre upon acre of rolling grassland and farms. Colorado has always been proud farm country. Proud horse country. Just proud country. As a girl from the ‘burbs, I appreciate that culture, even revere the simplicity (AKA: backbreaking, hard work) that goes into life on a farm.

Over that first decade of the millennium, it turns out people were discovering that Colorado is a pretty cool place to live. Developments started going up, and the farms started coming down. “I guess people do need places to live,” I thought. Still, back then when conditions were right, you could enjoy beautiful, slender sunflowers lining the roadways and dotting the fields in summer, like a welcome wagon to the prairie. They were graceful and glowing and made each road trip less mundane. As we know, those sights are fewer now.

I missed those copious blooms, and as a challenge, I took it upon myself to grow sunflowers this year in my backyard. I was gifted some seeds of several varieties by my sister. She sang praises of towering flowers she had once lovingly raised and hoped I would experience this earthy joy. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had also wanted me to try my hand at growing them, recalling fond childhood memories of planting them with his parents. I wondered, “What is this, a horticultural cheering squad?” But I love plants, and there was no harm in trying. I mean, I had the time, right? Bear in mind that I have never grown sunflowers and have not had extreme success growing anything that wasn’t in pots on the patio.

Challenge number one came when I realized that our soil is crap. It literally is not even crap because crap grows things very well. It’s not even soil; it’s dirt. Moreover, it gives dirt a bad name. If there were a “yo mama” joke about soil, it would be about this dirt. Thus, I ventured to Home Depot and came home with a trunk full of garden soil and compost.

Enter challenge number two. I had no way to incorporate the amendments into the soil. I definitely wasn’t going to hand-trowel yards of earth into my junk-dirt. That’s when our neighbors said, “We have a tiller you can use.” But before I knew it, my neighbor friends were helping till, amend, and plant the seeds. We laughed and got our hands dirty. It was a regular old garden party. Just because we like to live on the edge (or hedge), we dumped a whole bag of wildflowers seeds in there, too, for good measure.

Then came challenge number three: waiting. Did we plant at the right time? Are we watering the right amount? Will there be a cold snap? Is that bird eyeing my seeds? How long do sunflowers take to germinate in Colorado, anyway? It was the longest five days ever. Obviously, we didn’t wait long before there were teeny, tiny green sprigs appearing. Then short and meaty seedlings started crawling to the sky. They were robust but didn’t look like something that was going to be ultimately impressive, so I didn’t get my hopes up.

Days turned into weeks, and weekly phone calls to loved ones in the backyard proved to measure both time and plants. I was pleased that many of the seeds germinated, almost all of them, actually. About a month in, the stems began looking a little like bamboo, but waist-high. Six weeks in, rising ever higher, the tops started to form round, chunky buds. Two months in, the plants ranged in height from almost five feet to what looked like nine feet, and the first couple of flowers began to unfold; although, I could not get through the thick grove to measure. There were just that many sunflowers, along with various wildflowers that were daring enough to stick their necks up through the “trees.” However, few of the wildflowers had the audacity to bloom in the presence of such stalky fortitude.

Every day the plants get subtly taller with blooms emerging regularly and facing all directions as if to put on their show for neighbors on every side. A symphony of lemon and butter yellows with a few rogue oranges and reds, the cheerful color is just what our backyard needed and is a gargantuan testament to the power of life and growth. My takeaway is this: these little bursts of Colorado sunshine-on-earth are friendly reminders that it’s not all business down here. While we may get caught up in day-to-day trials and temptations, the best things in life are not free; they take our effort, time, friends, and appreciation… and about $2.50 for a packet of seeds.