Belfast Telegraph

Can you grow the tallest sunflower? A special green-fingered challenge to all our readers

By Linda Stewart

Today the Belfast Telegraph is sending out a challenge to all our green-fingered readers – can you grow the tallest sunflower?

And we're setting you on your way by giving away thousands of free packets of sunflower seeds as part of our Blooming Marvellous gardening drive.

Come the middle of August, we'll be urging you to submit your sunflower pics so that we can track down the very tallest sunflowers and feature them in the newspaper.

That's why we're offering fabulous prizes for the three owners of the winning sunflowers. We will be giving away three 14 pixel Fujifilm finepix AV150 digital cameras to the winners, each worth £60.

All you have to do to get started and get your free sunflower seeds is register your details at competitions.belfasttelegraph.co.uk. Alternatively, if you don't have an email address, you can send in your request for seeds with your full name, address and daytime phone number to: FAO Marketing Department, Free Sunflower Seeds Request, Independent News & Media NI, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1DN.

After that, it's just a matter of sowing your seeds and nurturing them through the ups and downs of a typical Ulster summer, before measuring your sunflower, taking a photo and submitting your entry.

Include your name, address, phone number, email address, the height of your tallest sunflower and a photo.

Either email your entry to sunflowers@belfasttelegraph.co.uk or post it to Linda Stewart at Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast, BT1 1DN, by September 8.

Then we'll pick out the best entries to visit and take photos before deciding which is the winner.

Sunflowers aren't native to the UK, but they've become a visible part of our summer gardens thanks to their huge size and glorious appearance.

We all have fond memories of pitting our gardening skills against fellow pupils in our school days in the ubiquitous sunflower growing competition – so hopefully our Belfast Telegraph competition will evoke some nostalgic feelings.

And once we choose our winners, they will be interviewed and featured in a special Blooming Marvellous gardening supplement free with the newspaper in August.

Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson said: "We all love sunflowers because they bring such vivid colour to our gardens and that's why we're celebrating the sunflower in our latest gardening drive. We hope you get the most out of your free seeds."

Sunflowers are thought to have been domesticated for the first time in Mexico, around 2,600BC, after crops were found at a dig site in Tabasco.

Many indigenous American peoples used the sunflower as the symbol of their solar deity, including the Aztecs and the Otomi of Mexico and the Incas of Peru.

However, it was in 1510 that early Spanish explorers encountered the sunflower in the Americas and brought its seeds back to Europe.

The flower has secured high status in the art world as the subject of Van Gogh's Sunflowers series of paintings and during the late 19th century, the flower was used as the symbol of the aesthetic movement.

Tips for perfect blooms

  • Sunflowers need full sun – choose a full-sun, well-drained location and prepare the soil by digging an area of 2-3 feet in circumference to a depth of about two feet.
  • Sunflowers are heavy feeders, so use a slow release granular fertiliser.
  • To grow the largest sunflowers, direct sow seed into the garden, instead of starting them in pots – they have long taproots that can become stunted if confined.
  • Water the soil and press seeds 1 inch deep in clumps of 5-6 seeds about 6-8 inches apart. Keep the soil moist and thin seedlings as they grow.
  • Feed often and water regularly with liquid fertiliser, but don't pour it directly onto the stems.

Five steps to floral fame

1. Get your free sunflower seeds by registering at competitions.belfasttelegraph.co.uk

2. Alternatively, send your full name, address and daytime phone number to: FAO Marketing Department, Free Sunflower Seeds Request, Independent News & Media NI, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1DN.

3. Grow your sunflowers.

4. Measure and take photos of your tallest sunflower and submit the details.

5. Email your entry to sunflowers@belfasttelegraph.co.uk or post it to Linda Stewart at Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, BT1 1DN.

So, how does your sunflower measure up against this big yellow beauty (and our Linda, who's little smaller)? 

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