A cottage made of sunflowers sounds like a storybook fantasy. But just such a place is blooming at the Fullerton Arboretum Children's Garden. And it isn't too late to plant and enjoy one in a sunny spot in your yard or garden. You can include a "roof" made of morning glories.
Building a Sunflower House
1. Select a site with full sun and good drainage.
2. Determine shape and size, but keep dimensions small, or the morning glories won't form a roof. Mark dimensions on the ground with a garden hose to help you visualize boundaries.
* Square: 8 feet by 8 feet
* Rectangle: 6 feet by 9 feet
* Circle: 8 to 10 feet in diameter
3. Dig a furrow along boundaries, leaving a 2-foot opening for the door. As you work, turn and loosen soil with a shovel or garden fork. Add compost, commercial soil amendment or all-purpose fertilizer, especially if planting more than one crop of sunflowers.
4. Plant the sunflower seeds about 6 inches apart. Between each, plant two or three morning glory seeds, following depth directions on the package. Cover the seeds and water. When sunflower seedlings reach about 6 inches, thin to about a foot apart. They will quickly grow into the frame of a house, with the morning glories twining upward around the stalks.
5. When sunflowers are about 6 feet tall, string twine loosely back and forth across the tops of the stalks.
6. Train morning glories along the twine, where they will grow to form a roof.
Sunflowers vary widely in height and color. Make your house more attractive by including a mixture of colors and sizes. Dwarf varieties, which will not grow tall enough to form a frame, can be used as colorful accents around the main structure of the house.
Tall varieties: Height
* Mammoth: 12 feet
* Gigantheus: 10 feet
* Aztec gold: 6 to 7 feet
Dwarf varieties Height
* Sunspot: 2 feet
* Sunset: 3 feet
* Italian White: 4 feet
* Morning glories
* Scarlet runner beans
* Hyacinth beans
* Plant a "carpet" of white clover, or place gravel or wood chips inside the walls.
* Furnish the house with a small table and chairs so children can watch birds that come to eat seeds.
* Create a sturdier, more permanent structure by planting seeds around a wood and wire frame.
* Roast sunflower seeds for snacks, but save some to plant next year's house.
* As flowers mature, petals drop and heads begin to droop with the weight of the seeds (ready to eat when they are easily removed by hand). After harvesting the seeds, cut off the stem at the base or tug it out of the ground to make way for a second crop.
Sunflowers grow best when they receive at least six hours of sun each day.
* Do not over-water. Let soil dry to a depth of about 1 inch between waterings.
* Seedlings grow slowly until they are about a foot tall; growth then accelerates rapidly. Young plants are fragile and may need to be staked.
Sources: "Sunflower Houses: Garden Discoveries for Children of All Ages" by Sharon Lovejoy (Interweave Press); Joyce Toy, Fullerton Arboretum Children's Garden
Graphics reporting by JANICE JONES DODDS/Los Angeles Times