Friday, August 1, 2014

Sunflowers in the Suburbs

I had a pretty painful knee when I awoke on Sunday morning. But I had plans to meet Janice at a nearby farm to photograph sunflowers and didn't want to cancel. And I guessed that I shouldn't have to walk too far. We met at Burnside Farms, a little holding nestled in between an ugly housing estate and a busy road. When I pulled up into the parking lot my first impression was one of disappointment, it looked so tiny, and I was concerned that Janice may have driven all the way from Winchester for a paltry 20 minute photography session.
I walked towards the entrance and my dismay immediately changed to delight. There were lots of very well put together floral displays, using old incubator trays from chicken farms, mason jars, old wheelbarrows and even tiny chalkboards to keep the kids amused. The lady who owns it used to be in the floral industry and wasted no time blowing her own trumpet very loudly when we complimented her skills. But it did look very inviting.
There were even tables with scissors and mason jars so you could trim and arrange your blooms before leaving.
A few strategically placed chairs sat among the sunflowers, making great places to rest or use in photographs. But I was really impressed with the sunflowers themselves. Most of them weren't that tall but it didn't seem to matter. Expecting 8ft tall plants just wasn't important anymore once you started noticing the flowers themselves. There's supposed to be about 58 different sunflower varieties here but i didn't bother counting. I was too busy 'oohing' at one bloom and then 'aahing' as another caught my eye. There were sunflowers with all yellow faces, some with black centers, some with red, brown and yellow petals and some that were all red. There were different hues of yellow and different shaped petals. I really had no idea that there were so many different kinds of sunflowers and seeing so many in one field was pure delight.
A few vines flowered amongst the tall stalks adding a vibrant splash of contrasting color.
Another positive aspect of these flowers were the bees that were attracted to them, and there were so many different kinds of bees. Some with bold yellow and black stripes, some brown, some tiny and sleek, others fat and fluffy. The air buzzed with their wings and I chuckled at seeing some little chaps carrying huge bags of bright yellow pollen that I marveled at them being able to fly at all. It was as if they couldn't believe their luck at finding such bounty and didn't want to fly away in case suddenly the flowers disappeared before they could unload and return.
Even  the leaves were different on some varieties. There were dark green leaves with purple veins, some had masses of white hairs fuzzing on the stems while others had just a few pale green hairs. Some were pricklier than others too.
There was a lovely old barn at one end of the field with busted ancient barrels stacked by a fence and I couldn't believe it when I spotted some hops growing up one side of the building. Many people didn't recognize the plant and listened as I told them of Kentish traditions when after the hops were picked, the leftover vines were hung from the ceilings of many country pubs or around the kitchen windows in homes. I remember the wonderful smell hat would fill the rooms.
Hops hanging over the bar at the Pepper Box Inn, one of my local pubs in Kent.
One guy was so enamored with the hops that after I suggested he rub some of the dried hops then smell his hands, he then went one step further and put some in his mouth. I followed suit and we both stood grinning at each other. It tasted just like a pint of a finely crafted IPA. I left him standing there, I think he was planning on devouring a whole vine, and I went with Janice to the animal section where there were pigs, goats, a huge heritage turkey and a flock of the sweetest Silkie chickens dashing about wearing little fluffy feathered trousers.
What a handsome group of animals. Everyone posed very nicely and I couldn't believe it when as I was photographing the pigs, a mass of tiny squeaking chicks scurried across from their pen and into the goats' area, The females and babies were happy to scamper all over the place and into the sunflowers while the cockerel stood near their house, crowing his head off, as though indignant that they were all running every which way and not stopping with him. The pigs were adorable and I spent some time scratching behind their ears and rubbing their shoulders, which they adored, grunting and moaning as they leaned into me.
Eventually we tore ourselves away from these wonderful creatures who were so obviously well looked after, and we strolled back to the sunflowers again.
I had ended up walking around here for over 2.5 hours and had been enchanted with the place.
i had purchased a ticket that will allow me back in without further payment while the sunflowers are blooming. I hope I have the opportunity to return. My poor knee had ballooned while I was here and I had to go home and spend the rest of the day with my leg up and a pack of ice soothing the swelling.

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