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Fit for a Queen


The juxtaposition is a little jarring at first, and then you start to smile. You’re downtown, driving along Lake Shore Drive, the splendor of the city’s sophisticated architecture for a backdrop, and what do you see as you pass directly east of Buckingham Fountain but hundreds and hundreds of giant yellow-flowering sunflowers. A country flower if there ever was one.

Making the contrast even more striking is the fact that this spot is also called Queen’s Landing because it is actually the location where Queen Elizabeth II disembarked when she arrived in Chicago for the first time.

Usually these giant flower beds are filled with tulips in spring, followed by a mix of annuals for summer, but this year Adam Schwerner, director of natural resources at the Chicago Park District, wanted to do something different and got the bright idea of seeding the beds with nothing but 8-foot tall ‘Mammoth’ sunflowers. Moore Landscapes, Inc. did the work, says Jim Pearson, vice-president for maintenance at Moore.

Gardeners will be surprised at how closely the sunflowers are spaced (I certainly was), but they’re thriving. Pearson filled me in on the history:

“The beds were actually thinned out when the seeds had emerged at around 8 inches,” he recalls. “When they started getting taller, we had every intention of thinning them out again, but CPD liked how thick the planting was and told us to hold off. We also entertained ideas of staking the plants. We were worried about the winds and/or the big flower heads toppling the plants like dominoes. So far they have held up beautifully. The plants may only have about two more weeks of life in them before the blooms are done. The birds and squirrels have already started picking at the seed heads, and people have started pulling the heads off as well.”

All Photos: Natalia Salazar, Chicago Park District

The sunflowers won’t be back next year, says Pearson. Plans are afoot to prep the beds for an immediate permanent planting of flowering shrubs and rose bushes.

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