Sunflowers add a touch of beauty to the vegetable garden

Jerry Apps
Sun Flowers in our garden in Waushara County,  Wisconsin, Sunday, July 31, 2022.

My father loved vegetable gardening. He was gardening just a few weeks before he passed away in 1993, at the age of 93. I learned a lot about vegetable gardening from him, as well as from my mother. One thing I learned from my dad, “Always grow something pretty in your garden.” By that he meant, grow some flowers along with all the vegetables.

During the several weeks that my mother was in a nursing home, almost every day dad picked a flower from his vegetable garden to take to her. This time of the year it was usually a big red dahlia, which brought back memories as well as a little beauty into her remaining months.

For the past several years, the flower of choice at Roshara’s garden has been sunflowers. I like them, my son, Steve and daughter-in-law, Natasha, the primary garden operators these days like them as well. They require little care—some hoeing to keep away the weeds when the sunflowers are little.

Being curious about things, the other day I asked myself, “Where did sunflowers originate?” They are native to America. The early ones were discovered in what is now Arizona and New Mexico. Native Americans grew them as a food source, crushing the seeds into flour for bread. They also knew how to extract the oil from the sunflower seeds, which they used for cooking.

Different cultures symbolize sunflowers in different ways—long life, vitality, good luck, a happy flower. Some people firmly believe that having sunflowers around the house can help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.

The birds harvest our sunflower seeds as soon as they are ripe, we get what is left over. For more than half the summer, sunflowers add a touch of beauty to our vegetable garden. When I see them, I am reminded of my father and his words to always add a little beauty to your garden.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: We all need a little beauty in our lives—planting sunflowers is one way.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to or contact him at