How to grow
What better way to welcome the spring than by planting some sunflower
seeds? And what better way to celebrate Barbie’s brand new DVD Barbie
Thumbelina than to ask TV presenter and ecology and wildlife expert
Ellie Harrison the best way to grow them?
grow fast and tall, and are a great way to attract wildlife to your
garden – kids of all ages will love this gardening activity, and they
can help every step of the way!
tips for sunflowers
Choose a spot in the part of your garden which
gets the most sun (6 – 8 hours a day is perfect), sheltered from strong
winds and make sure there’s something nearby (like a fence) to tie the
stem to. You don’t have to stick to one area of your garden: spread the
Choose a variety of sunflower seed. Growing
giants like American Giant, Russian Mammoth or Kong Hybrid (this one is
multi-headed) will require special attention. Dwarf varieties like Music
Box and Teddy Bear are ideal for patio pots or large window boxes.
until a week or two after the last frost has
thawed, and soak your seeds the night before planting in a little warm
some holes. Check the back of your seed
packet, but as a rule of thumb the holes should be 5cm deep and 15cm
Plant, water and protect the sunflower plants.
After about 2 weeks you should start to see some shoots coming through.
If there’s someone munching on these, a plastic cup with the bottom cut
off or a milk carton chopped in half are some quick and easy ways to
make little protective tents around the baby plants. Make the kids
responsible for watering them regularly in the evenings. If the
sunflowers begin to bend over, get the kids to help tie them up – one of
their old t-shirts or a ripped up plastic bag are perfect for this job.
and learn about sunflowers. Make a little book
or chart of the sunflowers, help the kids notice
Which plants grow
tallest – take their picture next to the sunflowers so they can relate
to the growth.
Which head grows
biggest – great practise at using a ruler and adding on centimetres!
How a flowering heads
track the sun - a good way to discover more about sunrise and sunset.
What wildlife is
attracted to the flowers and to the seeds, help them see which birds
like them. If it looks like the heads are going to be very popular with
your garden friends, cover a couple of them up with thin muslin, so the
children have some seeds left over to plant the following year.
Growing sunflowers really is the perfect family project, as the fun
doesn’t end when the summer does. Wait until the sunflower heads have
gone completely brown on the plant, then chop them off with enough stem
to hang them up to dry out for a couple of weeks. Once they’re dry, rub
the heads together to loosen the seeds. Put 50 or so seeds aside in a
marked envelope to use next year. Then split the rest in half. With the
first half, make a tasty snack for the wildlife in your garden, like a
lard seedcake, or just sprinkle them out to be eaten. Soak the second
half in salty water overnight then roast them in a hot oven on some
greaseproof paper for a tasty kiddie snack!
Thanks to your
children, your garden has looked great and been a good source of food to
all sorts of birds and animals which live around them. So, you see, even
the smallest person really can make a big difference!
How to grow
a Barbie Thumbelina window box
We’ve teamed up with TV presenter and ecology and wildlife expert Ellie
Harrison to bring your windowsills to life this spring with a fun,
fairy-filled window box that will attract the prettiest of butterflies
and insects. Your children can help every step of the way with our
how-to guide to installing a window box with the right type of flowers.
Plus you can download exclusive Barbie Thumbelina fairy cut-outs to flit
around your box and add a bit of fairy magic!
started with a window box
Choose the right window sill for your box to
sit on. Ideally, it should be in quite a sunny spot (don’t worry if you
can only find a shady one. It should be wide enough for a standard
window box to fit safely on.
the right window box from your garden centre,
one which fits to within 5 cm of the frame of your window, either side.
If you can’t find the perfect match, why not get your kids to help you
make and weatherproof a basic wooden window box?
about what plants you need for your window box.
Will your kids choose some trailing plants and some with upright
flowers, go for a wildflower riot or just have a box of daisies? Here
are a few helpers to steer them along the right paths:
If it’s shady go for Impatiens, Pansies or
Fuchsias (go or a sweet-smelling variety of the latter for a heady
If you’re away a lot choose plants which
can withstand some time without water, like trailing Lobelias,
upright French Marigolds or Geraniums. Herbs like Rosemary and
Oregano also don’t mind some time untended.
For wonderful scents choose climbing sweet
peas or trailing sweet
If you like it wild, go for a whole box of
Ox Eye Daisies, Cornflowers, Poppies or delicious-smelling Lavender.
These might also help attract birds and insects to your garden.
Try some dwarf sunflowers
prepare a window box
Line the box with a thin gauze like muslin or some dried moss, then put
a thin layer of small stones down. Fill the box with pure potting mix,
if you don’t have a garden, or a mixture of potting mix and earth from
your garden. Make sure the box always has something under it to catch
hold the water.
Check the back
of your packet, but you can start most of these plants outside from the
end of April. If there have been frosts or you’re keen for success,
start your window box off indoors, then slowly start leaving it out once
the plants are through – first during the daytime, then at night too.
fairies fly in!
Download the Barbie Thumbelina fairies and get the kids to
colour them in using wax crayons, so the colour doesn’t run (unless you
have access to a sneaky laminator at work, in which case use felt tip
and cover them in plastic!). Go to town with glitter or left-over tinsel
so they really catch the sun. Cut them out and mount the fairies on
bendy straws or kebab sticks. Then firmly stick your fairies in the
window box so the new plants grow around them.
after your window box
Make sure the kids water the box once a day, at least when it isn’t
raining, and preferably in the evening. See if they can notice – and
even draw and label – plants which do well and those which aren’t quite
more about Sunflowers, flowers and Barbie Thumbelina
Check out the magical
Barbie Thumbelina trailer, or find out more about Barbie Thumbelina
on her website. [www.barbie.co.uk/promotions].
The DVD, released March 16th, comes with a free pack of
sunflower seeds so you and your little ones can get started making a
difference right away!
The RSPB has a
mini collection pack of wildlife attracting seeds which includes
sunflowers and flowers for window boxes.
Project does two great packs of
Big Tall Sunflower Seeds (American Giants) and
Patio Sunflower Seeds (Big Smile).
Really Wild Flowers has some
great advice on buying the right type of wildflower seeds as well as a
shop so you can grow your own.