The first Mexican sunflowers I ever saw must have been seven or eight feet tall. I was ten years old, and Mrs. Caskey had to reach over her head to pull down some blooms to cut for me.
Granted, Ida Caskey was a short, elderly woman, and I was a child, and this was 36 years ago and time does have a way of distorting memory. Nevertheless, I was overwhelmed.
Along with its timberesque stature, I was impressed by the color of its flowers – a vibrant lacquer red that made the famous Caskey redheads look like a family of mousy brunettes.
There is still time to plant Mexican sunflowers (also known as tithonia) for bloom later this summer and fall. They are as easy to start from seed as marigolds, and like marigolds, many garden centers and nurseries now offer plants for the germination-challenged.
Sow the seeds in a commercial seed-starting mixture or directly into a well-prepared bed in the sunniest part of your garden. Mexican sunflower needs well-drained soil and is heat and drought resistant. Although it is an annual, it sometimes re-seeds itself. Good companion plants are goldenrod, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), blue anise salvia (Salvia guaranitica), dahlias and, of course, our native sunflowers.
I’ve grown Mexican sunflowers for the past couple years, and the flowers are as stunningly bright as I remember. Seed companies have downsized the plant, however. Most catalogs now only carry dwarf varieties. Some are as short as three feet. A concession to smaller gardens perhaps and a desire to avoid toppling from storms, but it’s a pity the tall ones aren’t also offered. Sometimes being overwhelmed makes for a wonderful memory.