Belfast Telegraph

Winners of our fun sunflower competition revealed

By Linda Stewart

We've searched the country far and wide. And we've scoured hundreds of photos, all in search of Northern Ireland's tallest sunflower.

And here it is – a mammoth effort grown by Castledawson mother and daughter Mavis and Jacqueline Garvin that has soared to an incredible 12ft 6in in height.

That is an enormous 7ft 4in taller than our 5ft 2in Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart, making it a stunning 2.42 Lindas tall.

The sunflower emerged as a frontrunner in our competition in late August, when it had grown to 12ft 4in, but since then it has climbed even taller.

We've spent months hunting for our tallest sunflower, receiving more than 100 entries from far and wide, including Newbuildings, Enniskillen, Magherafelt and Bangor.

Our inbox even yielded a couple of entries from as far away as England, plus an enormous sunflower grown by Edward Rodgers in Lifford, reaching 13ft 6in tall.

We took our tape measure out and about as we met some of the gardeners who were inspired by our contest to get growing.

To help our readers, we gave away thousands of free packets of sunflower seeds and offered digital cameras as prizes for the tallest three sunflowers deemed eligible.

We also received our smallest entry – a foot-high sunflower found growing on the beach near Ballywalter – and the one that defeated all the odds, found sprouting from between two kerbstones in Nutts Corner, Crumlin, by Christine Mitchell.

Many of our gardeners insisted they hadn't done anything special to achieve the remarkable height of their sunflowers, but the key seemed to be staking them (often with two or more bamboo canes tied together), regular watering, determined slug-hunting and a spot that enjoys all-day sunshine.

The magnificent sunflowers also gave plenty of pleasure to passers-by as well, including neighbours of Dolores McAlister in south Belfast, and commuters driving along Belfast's Sunnyside Street who took photos of the wonderful sunflower display grown by Roisin and Owen Smith and even posted them on Twitter.

One of the youngest competitors was Charlotte Grant (3) from Donaghcloney who was given a sunflower by Noah's Ark Playgroup in Waringstown and grew it to over 9ft.

But there's an even younger one, according to mum-to-be Karen Ryan, who planted three sunflowers, one for daughter Emily (5), one for daughter Heather (3) and one for 'Baby Fonzy' – otherwise known as the bump.

Meanwhile, Aimee Broadhurst (6) from Belfast watched and waited for months, only to be delighted when her 7ft 3in sunflower finally bloomed.

"We have had difficulty keeping the snails away as another hobby of Aimee's is to collect snails and take them for rides around the garden on her bike!" her mum said.

Ellie May and Janey Kidd in Lisburn grew a sunflower that reached over 8ft, towering over their Wendy house.

And Bangor toddler Louis Smith joined forces with his Teddy to grow a sunflower that grew to more than 6ft 9in.

It's a good job we didn't feed it! First prize: Mavis and Jacqueline Garvin, Castledawson

Mavis has never successfully grown sunflowers before, but this year she made sure to transplant and water them properly – and was certainly rewarded for her efforts. The tallest of the five sunflowers soared to 12ft 6in, which is an amazing 2.42 times the height of our Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart.

Mavis had to use a step ladder and steel rule to measure the sunflower – but admits she didn't feed the flowers.

"If we had fed it, dear only knows where it would have stopped – it could have been like Jack and the Beanstalk!

"It's up against a wooden fence and it gets the sun all day long. It's just good soil in Castledawson!"

Now Mavis and her daughter Jacqueline are planning the next stage for the sunflowers as they approach the end of their life, doubling as a feeding station for the birds.

"We're trying to harvest the seeds for the birds – we heard you wait until the back of the head turns yellow and then you hang it down and let it dry out," Jacqueline says.

I just watered them, honestly, that was all! Second prize: Rodney Thompson, Bangor

Rodney Thompson from Bangor sent in a picture showing how his 11ft 6in sunflower has grown extremely tall – approaching the apex of the neighbouring roof.

The sunflower is 6ft 4in taller than Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart, making it a staggering 2.23 Lindas. The retired sales representative says he is an amateur at growing sunflowers and he cultivates them for his grandchildren.

"I've never measured them before but I would say they only got to seven or eight feet," he said. "The eldest grandchild asked me if this one was a beanstalk! I just watered them, honestly. I didn't do anything – I don't know what happened.

"The seeds were lying in the garage for over a year. I staked them – I had to tie three bamboos together to get it up to that height. I fed them once or twice and that was it!"

They all just took off! Thirs prize: Eimear Kerlin, Castlereagh, Belfast

Eimear is on maternity leave from Citigroup, with just three-and-a-half weeks to go until the due date for her first child, and has managed to nurture a magnificent 11ft 4in sunflower.

That's 6ft 2in taller than Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart, making it 2.19 Lindas in height.

"I sowed the seeds in March and they literally just took off – it's been quite incredible. My mum and I have been sending photos back and forth of our sunflowers, saying 'look at mine', but mine has just really grown," she said.

"They've had no food, just the soil out there and watering them, and I suppose it's the good weather as well. It just goes to show that you don't really need to do anything special. I've been lucky too – I didn't seem to have many slugs."

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