Monday, October 1, 2012

Our Sunflower House!

A Sunflower House is an awesome garden experience to work on with the little ones in your life!

Our dreams of a sunflower house started when I checked out a copy of Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy. What a magical book! With soft watercolor illustrations and easy to read instructions (she calls them 'recipes'), Lovejoy showed us such wonderful ideas: a pizza patch, a tub of potatoes, a butterfly garden. This book is such an amazing tool for drawing kids into gardening, that I actually bought a copy of it. We like looking the pictures and reading about the ideas during story time. 

The illustrations for a Sunflower House project drew us in immediately. A clubhouse made of sunflowers! The kids were all as mesmerized by the idea as I was, and we started making big plans that very day. This 'RECIPE' is not from Roots Shoots Buckets and Boots, but it looks great, too, check it out!

Here are Noah and Ella, measuring our space:


Now, things did not go as smoothly as I'd hoped, in the beginning. It took us a lot of tedious labor just to prepare the trench into which the seeds would eventually go. With the first plunge of our trowels into the soil, we realized we were actually digging into a bed of stones. Using a large shovel and several trowels, we spent hours (spread out over several days) scraping out stones, filling our little wheelbarrow, emptying it, repeating. I simply could not believe how many little stones could take the space of a tiny trench!

Here we are, working on our trench:


Next we filled the trench with soil.


The most exciting part came when we put in the seeds. We had several different varieties of sunflowers (which I had found at the dollar store for 3/1.00!). We followed Lovejoy's 'recipe' for measuring out the space between each seed, and alternating varieties in order to create a variegated wall of flowers. This took much more concentration than I had expected (I ended up with quite a headache, actually).

THEN the struggles really began. Within two days, almost all of our seeds had been very obviously sabotaged. Only little, empty holes remained. Some critter had come to feast, and I can't say I blamed them. I mean honestly, there is not a much more tasty seed to eat than a sunflower seed! I was chagrined to think of all the concentration that had gone into the careful measuring, counting, planning—all for the benefit of some tiny paws (or beaks) set on indiscriminate devouring. We put more seeds in. This time, we just sorta kinda followed a plan. The holes left by little digging paws showed us where to replace the seeds, so no measuring.

Result of planting effort #2? Almost every seed, dug out and eaten. A few of seeds that had survived the first planting were starting to sprout. Out of those, 2 had been sliced, I'm assuming by cutworms.

We were already into the 3rd week of attempting to start our sunflower house, and feeling a bit gloomy. I had an 'aha' moment, after stewing for an entire evening about the critters that had found a free buffet in the yard. I thought we could start the seeds indoors, and then after the plants were bigger, stronger and less vulnerable to attack, we could transplant them into the trench.

For 2 whole weeks, we nursed the indoor sunflowers sprouts. By now we are pretty good at taking care of indoor starts—and I had confidence in our success due to the wild success of our tomatoes (which we started from seed this year and were at that point really starting to take off outside in the garden).

The day came for the transplant. Lovingly, gently, we put all the seedlings into their homes (and at this point I was still sort of trying to alternate varieties as we went along).

AND....within the DAY, all the sprouts DIED.

By now, my enthusiasm had been transformed into pure and utter frustration. I still wanted the kids to get a chance to have a sunflower house. I still believed in this project and could still see, in my mind, the magical playspace we had dreamed of. They had begun to look at me suspisciously whenever I talked of our sunflower house plans. They didn't trust that the whole idea was even true anymore, and probably thought it was all a fairy tale. The project was no longer something they were thrilled about, so I sort of had to forge on with this one on my own, still determined.

I took the rest of the seeds that I had (plus I went the dollar store and bought the rest of their packets—not a huge loss at 3 packs for a dollar), and went on a seed planting frenzy. No measuring, no careful sorting and alternating. I just took those seeds and started pushing them into the ground, one after another, going around the perimeter several times. I may have cursed at the seeds a couple times (so much for tender loving care), so it's a good thing the kids weren't around during this planting.

But hey...there is a happy ending after all! We'll just sorta skip over the 'dark moments of the sunflower house project' and pretend it all went the way it was meant to. ;)

Sprouts began to not only come up, but thrive. Critters stayed out of sight (I am pretty certain the neighbor's trusty cat had a lot to do with this. And I am also pretty certain we praised that cat profusely when we saw him stalking a chipmunk). I began to really believe that we might have success, and the kids began to notice that something was happening with our seemingly abandoned project.

Fast forward to now—after weeks of tending the finally successful sunflowers--and the dream has become a reality. Once the sprouts established themselves all they needed was occasional watering. The kids now have a magical place to play. With no prompting from me, I find them in there with their snacks, books, or just hanging out.

The bees have come to our flowers in droves. Initially this alarmed a few of the kids, who are terrified of anything that buzzes. I explained that the bees won't usually sting if they are left alone, and that they have a wonderful job--helping all plants to keep growing and thriving. The kids have learned to get excited when they see a bee happily crawling around on one of the flower's faces.

We can see the sunflower house from Noah's bedroom window, which is a nice touch. When it's not quite time to go outside for the day, the kids can peer out the window at the wonderful thing we have created! All the struggle, hard work, and frustrations were absolutely worth it, and you can bet that a sunflower house will grow in our yard every summer from now on.


  1. That is awesome! You do the most amazing things with your own kids and your daycare kids!

  2. Guess what Shay? YOU just wrote the very first comment on my blog ever! Thanks. Love ya!

  3. And...where is YOUR blog? You need one!

  4. Maybe if you have the pest issue could put something over the seeds until they sprout? Screen-door material or something?

    Just an idea from a non-planting fella :)

    Awesome project though :) the little ones are very cute all hard at work :)

  5. Jeremiah..I thought about that. I think I read it somewhere actually. Great idea, coming from a 'non-planting fella'! You should start planting's FUN!

  6. Lovely. :o) We grow sunflowers to raise awareness of centronuclear and myotublar myopathy. Read more and get involved at

    1. Thank you for this comment, Toni! What a cool project involving sunflowers, and a neat way to raise awareness about CNM. I see there are chapters in Canada and the US, too. I may have to get involved, since we love sunflowers so much around here! :)

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