Sunflower power brightens up kitchen garden

Sunflowers.
Sunflowers.

AS it’s been a rather wet second half to the year, it’s fantastic to see our sunflowers shine with their smiling faces in full bloom within the organic kitchen garden, which is bursting with fruit and vegetables at the moment.

The sunflower varieties are ‘Russian’ and ‘Mongolian Giant’, both types reaching amazing heights of over 10 feet and attracting the bees in abundance.

Some of the seeds will be left on the stalks for the birds to eat, but I must admit sunflower seeds roasted in a frying pan with a touch of salt are one of my favour snacks.

It’s always fun to collect some seeds for next year, we directly sow them during March or April, in a sunny position and by putting two to three seeds per section then thin once seeding has grown.

The sunflower was used as a symbol of the sun god by the Aztecs, Otomi of Mexico and the Incas in South America and is now the national flower for the Ukraine.

Sunflowers are produced mainly for their edible oil, suitable for cooking, or in the production of salad dressings, etc.

Although I believe scientists are researching the seeds for the production of latex and hypoallergenic rubber as more sustainable commercial crop.

When it comes to growing commercial crops using environmentally friendly farming, the conservation of the Norfolk Estate is crucial, which is where Arundel Castle is located.

We are very proud to mention Peter Knight, Norfolk Estate manager, who is currently one of just four UK finalists for the RSPB’s 2012 Telegraph Nature of Farming Award which will go to the public vote on Wednesday, September 5, to confirm the overall winner.

Peter has been managing the estate for over 24 years and has introduced many different initiatives to sustain quality food production with commercial crops and to increase wildlife through an ethic of ‘more output, less impact’.

This has seen substantial increases in birds, insects, plants and mammals which are so often enjoyed by all our visitors throughout the Norfolk Estate and through this synergy the castle gardens and grounds have benefited enormously.

For more information and details on how to cast your vote, please do go to: www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/farming/natureoffarming/finalists.aspx.

One of our fantastic plants at this time of the year is Rudbeckia, commonly known as ‘Black-eyed-Susans’ or ‘Coneflowers’.

These are excellent in a vibrant hot herbaceous border as well as being a good cut flower, especially as they flower for a long period of time.

We also plant them in the organic kitchen garden as they attract caterpillars, hopefully keeping them away from the tasty vegetables! The name was given by Carolus Linnaeus in honor of his teacher at Uppsala University, Professor Olof Rudbeck the Younger (1660-1740), and his father, Professor Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702), both of whom were botanists.

Some star plants to look out for at the moment are the Tamarillo’s (tree tomatoes) which are ripening, the Delphiniums, after being cut back, are flowering again and the Cosmos is flowering giving lovely late summer colour throughout the gardens.

A few tips from the Arundel Castle garden team:

l This is the ideal time to repair ground ready for either sowing grass seed or laying turf later in September.

l Ensure you have planned and ordered your spring bulbs (narcissus, tulips, iris etc) for planting end of September/October.

l Sow hardy annuals.

l Prepare holes for planting new trees and shrubs.

Martin Duncan - head gardener Arundel Castle