Several years ago, “WOW factor” became the new catch phrase at work, as in “What is your WOW factor”? Hopefully I have enough “WOW” going for me, but chatting with an old work friend who’s lucky enough to have moved on to a more satisfying career, I was reminded of it again. I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to a surprising “WOW factor” plant, one I honestly didn’t realize I’d like as much as I do, and want more of next year.
I once saw the description of this Perennial Sunflower as “too coarse for most gardens” in a vintage garden book I picked up from a used book store. I couldn’t disagree with that description more, and wonder how the writer didn’t love this flower more. This tall, bushy perennial is an almost perfect ”WOW factor” plant because of its:
- Great color - The predominant pastels of spring give way to some of the brighter tones of summer, and this plant has the cheeriest yellow blooms from mid summer to fall. I usually favor purples, blues and pinks in my flower beds, and this yellow adds a great punch of color and contrasts nicely with my blue bottle collection (pictured)
- Height - Plants with height can add dimension to a space. This is tall, reaching heights up to 8′ tall (wowsers). This helped me deal with the problem I sometimes face of everything being ankle to knee height, and is a great addition to the back of my border. In my garden it tended to get floppy after a couple of strong rains; I plan on staking it a bit next year
- Maintenance - No maintenance plants are a myth, but low maintenance plants are a must have. This perennial sunflower blooms the second year from seed and handles dry conditions very well. This would be a good selection for gardeners in drier climate tending towards a xeric landscape
- Interest - The perennial sunflower is a great addition to wildlife gardens, bees and butterflies swarmed them all summer, and now that they’ve mostly gone to seed, finches and sparrows have been picking them clean. I’ve been really pleased this year with the amount of wildlife that this has attracted to my little garden
- Cold Hardiness - Teetering between zone 4 and 5, I appreciate a plant that can take a frigid winter. Perennial Sunflowers thrive in a zone 3-9. The seedlings I planted last year didn’t amount to much, I was really surprised when this began growing in the spring and bloomed in the early summer
This year I attempted to grow cherry red sweet peas up trellises directly behind this patch of sunflowers. It looked great in my imagination, but within a month I realized that they would never catch up to the thriving sweet peas in the rest of my garden; they struggled in the dry conditions I was just too busy to water. I decided to stop babying them (that felt freeing). While the sweet peas quickly disappeared from that area, the sunflowers were stellar. Next year, I plan on growing more of this cheerful plant, in love with its happy yellow color.