All those involved in sunflower seed, plant raising and plant sales should have seen this excellent trial. The dozen or so members of The Sunflower Forum who made four visits during the flowering season have a tough job selecting out the best for garden performance.
We should expect to see a lot of RHS Awards of Garden Merit shortly.
While most people immediately think of towering giants when sunflowers are mentioned, it is the cut flower and landscaping types (up to 1.5-2m in height) and especially compact growing cultivars (at 30-50cm) that show greatest improvements and potential.
Among the modern multi-headed kinds for patio pots and the front of borders Munchkin, Rio Carnival, SoMini Show, Sunshot Golds and Solar Flash were outstanding. Work at Wisley indicates the removal of the top bud well before showing colour improved flowering overall on multi-blooming types.
The hidden gem behind this trial is the wealth of knowledge and experience held by the Forum - Tom Sharples (Suttons, 40 years), Tony Hender (GCRI, Hursts, Floranova, 40 years), David Arnold (Suttons, 25 years), David Crease (Westminster Parks, 40 years), Brian Taylor (ex-parks then worked his way up in commercial horticulture now Allensmore), John Gibson (Bees Seeds, then lifetime working with David Colegrave), Andrew Spiers (former technical manager, Young Plants) and Alec Summers (Cambridge Botanic Gardens) to name but a few.
One hopes the RHS has a sunflower day or conference with all these people in attendance. Next year is designated Year of the Tomato, so be sure to see excellent trials of more than 300 cultivars at ProVeg, Soham, Cambs, Mr Fothergill's, Newmarket and Thompson & Morgan, Ipswich. All three can be seen in a day via the A14/A12.
Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster