The nights are blue and distended, the moon hazy and the sun lazy; the grass and trees wear a rusty shade, and with late summer, ushers the humble sunflower. From rolling fields of joy in the South of France to the triumphant giant nursed in the back garden, no sight can be so tirelessly joyous and nostalgic as the sunflower. Its very name oh so indicative of the light it brings to our lives. Firmly rooted and standing tall, these raying towers have fed man and bird, eyes and spirit, for millennia - today they stand just as proudly in hotels and houses; attentively anticipated, ardently adored and so affectionately arranged by our family of florists.
Sunflowers have been bold from the beginning. They've shone through human cultivation for over 5000 years; first cultivated in the Americas, then received with pleasure by Europeans around the 16th century. Their blazing petals have similarly blazed their way through human history - culturally and agriculturally, and indeed turned heads just as they turn their own to face the sun.
With such proven visual perfection (patterns in the flower follow the Fibonacci sequence of beauty), our sweet ray of sun was emblemised by the aesthetic movement in the mid-1800s; where art was encouraged to be beautiful simply for the very pleasure that beauty brings - ‘Art for art’s sake’. Sunflowers were pasted on tables and tiles and tombstones and teapots; Oscar Wilde wrote frivolously about them, “O, I feel just as happy as a bright sunflower”. As aestheticism moved into post-impressionism, Van-Gogh inaugurated the magnum opus of this balmy bloom’s existence in paintings now recognised the world over. With the still-life series ‘Tournesols’ ( french for sunflower, literally ‘turns to the sun’) Vincent unknowingly immortalised and infamised this blithe and beaming late-summer plant that would go on to become the go-to gift for cheering up a sad friend, a new mother’s congratulation, or a celebration of a loved one’s life.
A chorus of sunflowers for Claridge's
The Teddy Bear Sunflower - one of a multitude of varieties.
Extending far beyond the cheery bunches smiling at passers-by in the supermarket, the diversity and morphology of sunflowers now found showing off in gardens and flower markets is simply staggering. Although famed for their sunny yellow appearance, breeders have created a confounding collection of colours, from viridescent varieties like ‘SunFill green’, to the ritzy tea-stained reds of 'Little Becka'. From a stylish and sophisticated ‘Italian White’, to the dark and moody ‘Black Beauty’ - like shreds of inky velvet in the wind.
Introducing the Karino bouquet - featuring the sunflowers close relation, the charming helenium.
Sunflowers share a sorority with several other unsung heroes like rudbeckia and cosmos, also at their best at this time of year. Marigolds and Helenium are too in the same botanical tribe as sunflowers; they weave their voices into the chorus of a summer bouquet as dainty droplets of warmth, paying homage to their big and beautiful sister - the floral emblem of sunshine. The floral designers at McQueens Flowers have been so taken with these glowing varieties that they pop-up within two bouquets
- the dusky, aromatic Karino
and the vivid festival of colour, Asha