Tag Archives: Fenway Victory Gardens

Sunflower Season

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

A bee loaded with bright yellow pollen works the huge head of a sunflower in a vast sunflower field near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Kansas is the sunflower state, but we had to go to Oklahoma to find these vast sunflower crop fields (pictured above and at the bottom) near Quapaw in mid-September. 

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

The sunflower crowns the seal on the Kansas state flag.

Heading south on Highway 69 in Kansas, we passed mile after mile of green soybean rows and the brown stalks of ready-to-harvest feed corn.   Cattle and horse grazed in lush pastures.  It was the kind of perfect late summer day you want to bottle so you can release it in January.

The small yellow heads of wild sunflowers cheered us along the roadside and in fields that had escaped mowing and grazing, but it wasn’t until we crossed into Oklahoma that we really saw SUNFLOWERS –brilliant yellow that stretched as far as I could see.  Thankfully, I was wearing sunglasses, or I’d be blind today!

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

A Cloudless Sulphur butterfly nectars on a wild sunflower in a vacant lot.

The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, so I’m sure it was the first flower I ever learned about. Helianthus annuus, the annual sunflower, comes in 60 species.  Some species can grow as tall as fifteen feet.  The flower heads can be small as buttons or be as large as dinner plates.   I don’t think I’m biased, but the sunflower has got my vote as the most useful flower in the world.  If you can think of a more useful one, let me know.  (I’m making my case below.)

Native Americans discovered and domesticated the sunflower as early as 2,300 B.C. The earliest example of a fully domesticated sunflower was found in Tennessee.  The Incas used the sunflower as an image of their sun god, and the sunflower is regarded as the floral emblem of Peru.  Native Americans grew and used the sunflower for both food and oil.  They made a yellow dye from the flower heads and fiber from the stalks.  

The oil can be used for cooking, soap-making and even in the manufacture of paint.  I’ve used oil paints with sunflower oil, rather than linseed, in art. Domesticated sunflowers are grown ornamentally and for crops — seeds, oil and high-protein cattle feed. You can eat the seeds or make butter out of them.  The leaves can be used for cattle fodder.  Sunflowers even produce latex.  No part is wasted. 

Many birds love sunflower seeds, and some crop varieties have been developed with drooping heads to make it more difficult for the birds to get at the seeds.

Sunflowers in Fenway Victory Garden in Boston.

Sunflowers in a plot in Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston.

There are the weedy types that thrive along roadsides and in uncultivated areas that provide essential habitat for wildlife and insects.  Sunflowers are also good nectar and pollen sources. Some wild types creep into crop fields, where they’re popular with bees and butterflies, but not farmers.

Many composite flowers — the actual flowers are crammed together in the head — are called sunflowers, including some perennial species. The petals — or rays — can be yellow, maroon, orange or even other colors.

The Spanish introduced the sunflower into Europe in 1510, and sunflowers are now grown throughout the world.  Russia is the leading grower, followed by Argentina, the United States and Canada.  During the 18th century in Europe, members of the Russian Orthodox Church helped to make sunflower oil popular because it was one of the few oils not prohibited during Lent.  This could explain why Russia leads in its cultivation.

The seeds are used as chicken feed — and perhaps not coincidentally, two famous chicken restaurants in Pittsburg, Kansas, are not far from Quapaw– Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

Sunflowers grow in the demonstration garden at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas.

The tuberous roots of the Helianthus tuberosus, the Jerusalem artichoke, can be eaten.  Now called a sunchoke, the old Jerusalem name of this perennial sunflower came from the Italian word for sunflower, girasole.  I’ve never tried a sunchoke, but it sounds interesting, if not delicious.

To learn more about sunflowers, click here.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.

Endless fields of sunflowers near Quapaw, Oklahoma.


Filed under Biology, Conservation, Entomology, Environment, Gardening, History, Humor, Insects, Kansas, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Travel

Fenway Victory Gardens and Fenway Park

The Prudential Building towers over plots in the Fenway Victory Gardens in Boston along Boylston Street. These gardens are America\'s oldest Victory Gardens, established in 1942. Photo by Cathy Sherman. All rights reserved.

Article about gardening books from the New York Times

As a college student, my daughter lived along Boylston in Boston in one in a row of old apartment buildings. The woodwork was thick with paint, the walls were peeling, the plumbing leaked.  The floors were stained, and the sink was rusty.  One night she had to stay up to bail water from the tub because it wouldn’t drain nor would the tub faucet stop leaking. 

From her windows on the back of her building, my daughter could look into Fenway Park baseball stadium.  Her blinds couldn’t block the glow of the lights, and she heard the roar of the crowd at every game the Red Sox played — this was 2007, a year when the Red Sox won the World Series, so there was a lot of roaring. Every My daughter\'s apartment on Boylston in Boston overlooked Fenway Park stadium, where she could hear the roar of the crowds.  Photo by Cathy Sherman.home game was sold out.  The streets were jammed.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t a baseball fan…..

Still, her neighborhood did have one glorious aspect.  The front of her building faced the Fenway Victory Gardens.  I appreciated the gardens more than she did.   She rushed past them to and from her classes at the Berklee College of Music.  The weather was usually bad.  She’d heard rumors about the strange activities along the fens that bordered the gardens to the east, some of which we saw for ourselves.  Men strode back and forth, hands in their pockets, along the tall rushes.  Here and there, short paths had been beaten into the rushes. “They find bodies there,” she said.

I loved the gardens, which I could appreciate as a summer-time tourist and a gardener myself. I wasn’t in a rush and no one bothered me as I wandered the paths, while gardeners worked quietly in their plots.  On some of the narrower paths, I stepped over used condoms and cigarette butts, which hinted at the different kind of visitor the gardens attracted at night.

The Fenway Victory Gardens represent the nation’s last remaining of the original victory gardens created nationwide during World War II, according to its website. www.fenwayvictorygardens.com   During World War II, because of the needs of the troops in Europe and the Pacific, there was rationing and shortages for those on the home front.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for Americans to grow more vegetables.  The City of Boston established 49 acres, including the Boston Common and the Public Gardens, as “victory gardens” for citizens to grow vegetables and herbs.

The Fenway gardens are on seven acres of the Fens, one of six Boston Parklands designated as the historic “Emerald Necklace” by celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1800s.  The gardens have more than 500 plots, each about fifteen by twenty-five feet.  More information is on the website listed above.Gardeners can plant whatever they want in their plots.  Some plant crops and flowers.  Some create a serene spot to meditate and rest. Photo by Cathy Sherman.

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