£1,000 for 3-storey sunflower

A gardener with a lifelong passion for sunflowers has won £1,000 following a nationwide hunt for the UK’s tallest specimen.
Seed and plant specialist Thompson & Morgan announced the biggest ever cash prize for a tallest sunflower competition back in spring, in a bid to see the world record brought to UK shores.
The bumper prize attracted entrants from around the UK, from gardeners young and old. There were some stand out specimens sitting between 12-14ft (3.7-4.3m), but the clear winner – at a staggering 24ft (7.2m) – was grown by Richard Hope. The Wigan gardener is well-known on the giant veg growing circuit, having held previous world records for the biggest swede, heaviest leek and longest parsnip. Grown against a sunny wall of his house, his giant plants reach the apex of the roof three storeys up!

Proud gardener Richard Hope from Shevington, with his award winning sunflowers, which are taller than his house at 24ft tall.
Proud gardener Richard Hope from Shevington, with his award winning sunflowers, which are taller than his house at 24ft tall.

Sadly, his giant entry was shy of the world record by 4ft 8in (1.4m), but Mr Hope still has his sights on beating the 8.75m (28ft 8in) sunflower grown by Hans-Peter Schiffer of Kaarst-Vorst, Germany in 2013. For the past 35 years Mr Hope has been hand pollinating his plants, saving seeds from the tallest and sowing them the following year, over time building a superior sunflower strain.
Most impressive is that he grows his plants in make shift containers rather than in the soil, with no specialist feeding formula. “I use salmon boxes with large bottomless pots set over them, similar to tomato ring culture method. It gives the plants about two and half feet of compost to grow in,” he says. “There are no real tricks to feeding my plants either, I use whatever I happen have in the shed.”
You might assume Richard starts his plants off early indoors under heat and lights to get such results, but there is no such trickery. “I sow my seeds in the first week of April every year. Along with height, my seed strain has evolved a really long season of growth, so the plants keep on climbing right through to October.” In fact, due to mild autumn weather, Mr Hope’s plants piled on a further 1ft (30cm) in between entering in early October and verification at the end of the month.
Despite there being no world record breaker, the gardening experts at Thompson & Morgan were more than impressed with the winning entry, and the runners up. Horticultural Director Paul Hansord said: “We’ve not had much sunshine this year, but sunflowers have certainly done well in UK gardens. We were excited to see entries of 12,13, 14ft coming in – impressive heights by any means. When Mr Hope’s entry hit our inbox we couldn’t believe it. We sent our closest area sales manager to verify things, who quickly called to say we should get the company cheque book ready!”
Thompson & Morgan is upping the stakes for 2016 and will again be offering £1,000 for the tallest UK sunflower, but if it breaks the world record the prize money will be upped to £2,000. And if a gardener breaks the record using the mail order specialist’s incredibloom fertiliser, the prize pot will be doubled again to a staggering £4,000. Mr Hansord added: “We’re so confident of the plant-boosting abilities of our fertiliser range that we’re willing to heavily reward anyone who can grow a world record sunflower with it in 2016.”
Thompson and Morgan offers 37 different sunflower varieties, from giants like ‘Tall Timbers’ F1 to multiflowering types like ‘Helios Flame’ F1, and dwarf varieties including 2ft (60cm) tall ‘Little Dorrit’ F1.

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