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Locust Grove resident grows ultra-tall sunflower

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

Those passing by Dorian Greene's Locust Grove house will, no doubt, notice some larger-than-life vegetation growing in his front garden.

With the help of his 6-year-old daughter, Jordan, Greene has planted sunflowers in back and in front of his home. But what makes that unusual, said Edie Yongue, director of Clayton County Clean and Beautiful, is that one of the flowers is, at least, 12 feet tall.

Dorian Greene, an employee with the Clayton County Transportation and Development Department, and an avid gardener, was out shopping for peppers in the lawn-and-garden section of a local home improvement store earlier this year.

His daughter joined him on the quest, and what inspired their gardening project was a simple package of sunflower seeds she spotted on one of the store shelves.

"She said, 'Daddy, I wish we could plant those,'" Greene said.

He said his young gardener enjoys plants and flowers as much as he does, and they both worked together. "She stuck the seeds in the ground," he said. "She helps me plant everything."

In early spring, the two began by preparing the gardens, and soon saw the small green shoots popping through the soil. "They sprouted within a week," he said.

When the sunflowers first began growing, Greene said he used Miracle Grow plant food and Epsom salts when watering them, instead of fertilizer, to enhance their growth.

Within a month, the sunflowers began to grow large, and the Greenes had two plants in the front, and 10 in the rear. By late July, one of the flowers facing the street had grown significantly taller than the others.

"Once it got past the top of the window, I thought, 'Man this thing's going to be huge,' he said. "I have never seen one that tall."

Yongue, who works in an office near Greene, said she learned of his outdoor exploits when she overheard him talking one day about his sunflower plants. She asked him about the plants, and Greene proudly showed her pictures he took of the tallest one.

Yongue's initial reaction was surprise. "Wow," she said. "That's kind of phenomenal."

She said she hopes to share the photo with others in the agricultural community.

"I wanted to put it in the Farmer's Market Bulletin," said Yongue. "They put stuff like that in the bulletin, anything unusual."

According to Frank Hancock, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, the height of an average sunflower depends on its variety. Greene's flowers, said Hancock, were most likely of the "Giant" sunflower variety, which can grow as tall as 20 feet.

Still, Hancock said, Dorian Greene's jumbo-sized plant could be considered extraordinary. "I would say that 12 feet is an exceptional sunflower," added Hancock.

Dorian Greene said he did not take any extra care with the flowers, other than pruning some of the leaves to encourage the flowers to draw more nutrients from the soil.

The sunflowers catch the attention of the neighborhood youths passing by, and Greene said he sometimes gives a few seeds from one of his sunflowers to the children, with instructions that they ask their parents to plant them during next year's growing season.

His success at growing the plants goes against popular opinion about the difficulty of growing sunflowers, he added. "A bunch of people told me sunflowers are real finicky, and hard to grow," he said.