What could be better to lift the summer garden spirit than sunflowers? Answer: Not much!

Sunflowers bloom late summer through October and take at least six weeks to grow from seed. So, the best way to grow sunflowers is from a good-sized plant. It needs lots of heat but is easy and fun to grow.

Sunflowers need sunshine and not a lot of water. You can find dwarf sunflowers, like Elf or Teddy Bear, that grow to only 16 inches, or taller varieties such as Mammoth Grey Stripe that can get 10 feet tall with 12-inch flowers. Starburst sunflowers can grow to 7 feet with 11-inch flowerheads. Just choose a sunflower that suits the space since it is an annual.

Bees and butterflies are attracted to sunflowers. In autumn, the birds get their chance at the seeds, and if you are inclined to get the most out of a plant, you can try roasting and salting your own sunflower seeds.

If you are looking for more pizzazz in the garden:

Grandma’s Rudbeckias

Rudbeckia varieties include all of those tried-and-true gloriosa, daisies, and black-eyed Susans that are still blooming into October, when not much else looks as lush. Rudbeckias are perennials with a love of sun and not much water. Rudbeckia “Goldsturm” is short enough not to need staking and is one of the easiest to grow. It tolerates light shade. Rudbeckia “Herbstonne” has large golden yellow blooms with reflexed petals on long stems and makes a great cut flower. Rudbeckia “Little Gold Star” grows to about 16 inches and doesn’t need staking. It makes a great border or container plant. Rudbeckias attract butterflies and other pollinating insects. All butterfly garden seed mixes contain some form of rudbeckia.

"Garden Allies” by Frederique Lavoipierre


Garden Allies — The Insects, Birds & Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving covers everything from microscopic bacteria that help break down and decompose, to worms that churn the soil right through to nitrogen-fi xing, nutrient-delivering mushrooms. A chapter on roly-polys, aka pill bugs or potato bugs, and the dreaded earwig explains the bugs’ benefits. It takes some convincing. Lavoipierre dives deep into the importance and varieties of bees as allies. There are 20,000 bee species, both solitary and social. Butterflies and moths, wasps, mud daubers, hornets, various flies, beetles, birds and bats are all given time in the spotlight. This is the book for the science-based gardener interested in balancing the nature in their space. Timber Press, $25.