The perennial sunflower, Helianthus, is one of my favourite late summer plants and they are just so cheerful! How can you not smile when you look at this picture!
The three Helianthus most commonly offered are ‘Lemon Queen’ a big, clump forming brute of a plant which runs riot in rich soil; ‘Monarch’ an enormous badly behaved double; and my favourite, ‘Miss Mellish’, still a rampant thug but such a pretty lady! Other varieties include ‘Capenoch Star’ AGM and ‘Carine’ which is similar to ‘Lemon Queen’ but slightly shorter. Helianthus is a good plant for poor dry soils and, as can be seen from this picture, happily grows even in the dessicated soil beneath a conifer hedge. It really is a reliable star performer.
There are several less common Helianthus cultivars worth seeking out from specialist nurseries such as the tall ‘Maximilianii’ generally with fewer flowers and apparently a prolific self seeder; H. salicifolius with willow-like feathery foliage and chocolate brown centred flowers which love a sunny position at the back of a dry border, and the smaller, better behaved dwarf variety ‘Happy Days’ for a moist, rich soil in the middle of the herbaceous border.
Of course, the most common perennial sunflower relative is probably the Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, which is better known for it’s edible tubers than it’s flowers but is a perennial sunflower nevertheless. Its comparatively small and insignificant yellow flowers emerge when the plant is at it’s tallest, sometimes over 8 feet, and are often difficult to see.
If you want tall reliable colour in late summer and don’t mind a bit of yellow, these prairie daisies are hard to beat. It is the ideal plant to colonise a difficult or neglected area of poor soil or to hide an ugly shed providing height for screening, dark green foliage from mid spring and late summer colour until the first frosts.