2 green thumbs, 4 colossal sunflowers

Oakdale resident Mark Stember and his supersize sunflowers (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

For the second year in a row, Mark Stember grew mammoth sunflowers from seeds in his front yard at Cottage Homesteads of Aspen. 

It’s part of an effort to inspire other seniors in the area to get excited about planting.

“When I got here I decided, well, I’ll do something outrageous and see how it goes,” he says.

During his first summer at the Oakdale cottages, Stember grew just one 12-foot sunflower. This year he planted six, though only four survived through the stormy summer. 

The Burpee seeds he uses tend to yield nine- to 12-foot flowers. Stember’s tallest this year blows past that average at 15 feet tall.

The secret, he says, is using organic fertilizers like old bananas and dead fish. Despite his fertilizing, dutiful watering and “tender-loving care,” he says, the flowers can be unpredictable. 

“That one is kind of shy,” Stember says, pointing to one of the shorter sunflowers. “It’s facing the roof — silly thing. It hasn’t blossomed yet either.”

Stember says he started gardening as a kid. His mother was a farmer in Iowa. “She kind of caught the bug and gave it to me — you know — the green thumb stuff.”

Neighbors are catching that bug, too, Stember says. Flower gardens are popping up around the neighborhood and he says even the cottage manager is excited about the giant sunflowers.

Stember remains committed to growing a 22-footer and he says he plans to grow flowers again next year, which he hopes is changing the community.

“Just in a little, big way,” he says.


—Amy Felegy

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