Belfast Telegraph

Now that's some real flower power

Stephen battles slugs to grow whopper of a plant

By Linda Stewart

It's the first time Stephen Melville has ever grown a sunflower - and he's clearly doing something right.

This gorgeous big bloom in his Carryduff garden has soared to a magnificent 78.5 inches – 16.5 inches taller than our Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart, who is 5ft 2in.

Stephen planted it but credits wife Annice with its maintenance.

"I am a volunteer with Conservation Volunteers and I work down at Beech House on the Ravenhill Road," he said. "A girl called Rachel Bolt decided we should have a competition for the best sunflower. I've only seen two others, but mine far outstrips them."

One of his secrets may be to surround the thick stalk with plastic piping to keep the slugs from nibbling it.

"One of the important things is to have the right support," he said.

"You need to give it a feed once a fortnight and it needs plenty of watering. Keep it in the sunlight as much as possible. Protect it from slugs and snails."

They have been tortured with slugs. One morning Annice picked up an incredible 28 snails in the garden.

"I think it has to do with the past winter being so mild," Stephen said. "This is the first time I've grown a sunflower – it was a bit of a fun thing."

Sunflowers aren't native to the UK, but have become an iconic part of gardens due to their size and glorious appearance.

We all have fond memories of pitting our gardening skills against fellow pupils in our school days in the ubiquitous sponsored sunflower competition – so hopefully our Belfast Telegraph contest inspires feelings of nostalgia. So if you think your sunflower can beat Stephen's, show it off. We want to see how your sunflowers measure up to the rest. Measure your tallest sunflower, take a photo and send it in. Include your name, address, phone number, email address, its height and a photo.

Either email it to sunflowers@ belfasttelegraph.co.uk or post it to Linda Stewart at Belfast Telegraph, 124-144 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1DN by September 8 – but we do want to see how they're getting on before that so go ahead and send them in.

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."

How to enter

How does your sunflower measure up? This one is 6 feet 6.5 inches, 16.5 inches taller than our Environment Correspondent Linda Stewart who is 5 feet 2. Can you grow a sunflower that is two or even three Lindas tall? For the chance to win one of three digital cameras, show us your sunflower, including your name, address, phone number, email address, the height of your tallest flower and a photo. Linda is on the road in the coming weeks, measuring the most promising ones.

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