I have always thought of sunflowers as happy plants, their bright colours almost glowing in the sun and their statuesque frame personifying good health and seasonal growth. So, having just spent the past week or so in the Bergerac area of France, it was a bit of a shock to find ourselves surrounded by the sad, nodding and lifeless forms of the sunflower fields. In fact it was more than a shock - it was quite depressing. Row after row, field after field seemed to mimic the serried ranks of the surrounding vines, standing to tired attention.
Somehow, their exhausted frames, having endured the searing heat of southwest France's summer, symbolised all that is negative about autumn - the end of the summer season; the turning of warm days into ones that are cooler, wetter and greyer; and the dawning realisation that another gardening season is coming to an end, with many jobs still to do and some having to be put off for next year. Normally I love the thought of autumn, and look forward to the garden slowing down, the change in floral/foliage tones and colours, and clear thinking time for the year ahead.
But this year I'm not ready for that change. Maybe because our summer hasn't been the ‘barbecue summer' that our dear old Met Office predicted I feel somewhat cheated for those long warm days. Maybe it is because I, too, want to feel like those French sunflowers - tired of the heat, yearning for cooler days.
Whatever the reason, there was a great fillip for me waiting in my garden though - massive heads of sunflowers, in full colour, looking up to the sky. Maybe things aren't so bad after all.