This idea comes from one of my all-time favorite gardening authors, Sharon Lovejoy. The book is Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages and if you have children in your life, this is the perfect gardening book for them.
Sunflower houses are just what they sound like: houses grown with sunflowers. Children and grandchildren will love helping with this project and watching their "house" grow. Here's all you need to do:
• Find an area in full sun where you want to grow a play house. Mark out a section of your yard or garden and dig out a small trench. My houses are usually 10 ft by 10 ft, but you can make them as small or large as you want.
• Work some compost into the soil in the trench to help loosen up the soil.
• You can use any type of sunflower seed, but it needs to be one that grows very tall. My favorite is "Mammoth Russian" and they can grow up to 12 feet or more in a growing season. You will also need some "Heavenly Blue" Morning Glory seeds - these will become the "roof" of your house. You can begin to plan your seeds at this time of year since we are past the last frost date.
• Now it's time to plant! I have taken a broken broom stick I use to plant my seeds; I have marked off the stick into inches so I can easily space my sunflowers to the appropriate growing distance. You want to plant your sunflowers from 8" to 12" apart in order to give them room to grow. Poke a hole into the soil about 1" deep and drop in a sunflower seed and a morning glory seed; cover with soil. Do this all around your trench, making sure to leave an opening for a door.
• Make sure to water your seeds every day in order to help germination and watch for those first green leaves to poke out of the ground.
• I have an old piece of carpet that I use on the inside of my "house" in order to keep the weeds down and cover it with a thick layer of straw to have something soft for the kids to play on.
• Continue to water the flowers every day and watch them grow. As the sunflowers grow up, the morning glories will climb up the sunflower stalks. In June, I usually plant gourds or mini pumpkin seeds at the base of each sunflower to help fill out bare spots in the heat of the summer.
• When the sunflowers are over your head, you will need some string or twine and a ladder. Gently tie the end of the string to one sunflower head and then crisscross wrapping each sunflower until you have a spider web of string across the top opening of the house. Within a matter of days, the morning glories will fill in this spider web and become the ceiling of the house.
This spring, my daughter and I helped the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill garden workers plant a sunflower house for their children’s garden. This one has a door opening on three sides so the children can exit into other areas of the garden. It grew into an large house with a roof of morning glories and the children loved it. It has been such a big success and we are planning for a larger house next year.
Children (and adults) will have hours of fun playing in their natural house and it will become their own special hideaway. I like to place a chair in the house and watch all the wildlife - bees, butterflies, dragonflies and birds - visiting my "home." It's a peacefully way to end a stressful day.
**I would like to thank Sharon Lovejoy for the inspiration to my hobby of sunflower houses. It will be so much fun for me this year because I now have grandchildren who will love to play in my houses!