I visited Italy for the first time when I was eighteen. My family rented a gorgeous villa in the town of Montespertoli and we traveled around sunny Tuscany for two weeks. When we weren’t busy exploring the cities or nearby towns, we would take evening walks along the road in front of our villa. There was a massive field just on the other side of the road that, when we first arrived, was green and very full. We imagined it was some sort of wheat or grain and thought nothing of it. One day, we were pleasantly surprised to see that flowers had bloomed. It was a sunflower field. Full of hundreds, if not thousands, of huge stalks and a sea of gold.
Last summer, I decided I wanted to plant my own sunflowers in the garden. I bought a small packet from the grocery store and tucked all of the little seeds into a bed next to the edge of the fence. I eagerly ran outside every morning before work or once I got home in the afternoon, watering them and keeping my eyes out for any sprouts peeking through the dirt. After only a few days, the tiny green stalks began to appear. But not long after, the neighborhood groundhog snuck into the yard and munched all of the sprouts and the remaining seeds.
One day when it was still freezing cold and snowy this past winter, we were at the grocery store and decided to start stocking up on seeds for the vegetable garden. I wanted to give the sunflowers another shot, so I bought a packet of regular seeds and another for red sunflowers. Once the frost date finally passed, I was ready to plant my babies. Rather than plant them directly in the ground this time, I opted for two large ceramic pots that were sitting in the yard, unoccupied. There were so many seeds between the two packets that I ended up planting a few in the ground by the fence near the front of the pool too. Unfortunately, they were attacked by any combination of the birds, bunnies, and groundhogs that romp through the yard, and I am not sure if they will keep growing.
It is a common misconception that a mature sunflower looks like one giant flower–a brown or gold center with yellow (or red) petals–but it is in fact made up of hundreds of small flowers. Those tiny flowers make up the brown center, or head, and the yellow petals protect the flowers during its growth. Once they grow strong and tall, and the head blossoms, sunflowers will change direction and follow the sun throughout the day to soak up as much light as possible.
There was a bit of a scare soon after this year’s flowers began to sprout, as the birds were picking at the seeds and I wasn’t sure enough of them would survive. We have also had some very strange weather this spring: hot spells followed by cold spells followed by dry spells. It’s a wonder that my seedlings became sprouts and that they are still growing. (My little sunnies will soon be as tall as me, if not taller!)
Sometimes it’s a wonder that any of us keep growing and thriving, despite the constant changes life throws us. But the universe only sends us the things we are ready for at the precise moment we need them. Even when it seems like the weather is changing too quickly or time is passing too soon, we can lean toward the sun. It is always there, shining bright and nourishing our planet. There is the moon, giving light and controlling the tides. There are the stars, burning fast and slow, with lightyears worth of energy inside of them. And of course, there are people. People who will fight with you and share with you, teach you and love you, lean on you and hold you up. We all grow in our own time. Some will face predators or harsh climates, but it will only make them stronger. It is a journey, rather than a race, that we can celebrate at every step. Everyone in the garden has a place and a purpose and there is room for us all. It just takes a little bit of time.
With all of the rain we have had in the past few days, plus more to come and some surely sunny days to follow, I think these little flowers are going to do just fine.