Just south of Lawrence, 6 acres of sunflowers are about to hit full bloom
For years, Lawrencians have traveled in droves to Grinter’s Sunflower Field between Lawrence and Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County, at one point last September contributing to miles-long traffic backups that temporarily shut down the popular spot.
George Hunsinger hopes to ease congestion along the highways this Labor Day weekend by luring a few Lawrence-area sunflower lovers to his own small patch. The 6-acre plot, which debuted last summer, is located right here in Douglas County.
It’s the only sunflower patch of its kind in Douglas County, Hunsinger says.
“This was something that nobody else had tried, so I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s give it a whirl,'” says Hunsinger, the third-generation owner of his family’s Hunsinger Farms.
The patch, located just south of Lawrence at 923 East 1450 Road, is mostly a hobby but also a small-time business venture for Hunsinger, who allocates most of his time to his 300-plus acres of rotating corn and soybean crops.
He and his wife, Cheryl, keep a small garden outside their yellow farmhouse, but Hunsinger says he had little experience with sunflowers — aside from seeing wild ones springing up in fields — when he originally planted his 6 acres last year.
With a little advice from the county extension office, the patch was soon up and running, attracting about 200 visitors in its first season. The gray mammoths — giant sunflowers that can grow up to 12 feet tall — were the sole attraction last year, but this sunflower season, Hunsinger’s added a new variety.
The shorter variety, called Peredovik sunflowers, can grow to about 6 feet, though Hunsinger says his are waist-high and in full bloom. They’re “absolutely gorgeous,” he says.
Hunsinger expects his mammoths to be in full bloom by Labor Day weekend — optimal photo-taking time. Though visitors can take home flowers for a free-will donation, most folks tend to stop for the photo op created by the golden fields of flowers, Hunsinger says, and he’s OK with that.
“We enjoy seeing people taking pictures out there and enjoying it as well,” he says. “As of now, we don’t ever plan to charge, because anyone can drive up a public road and snap a picture of sunflowers.”
There’s no set price on his sunflowers, either, though the farm is suggesting $1 per giant head. The seeds from two or three sunflowers are enough to “feed your birds all winter,” Hunsinger says.
He’s also offering cut-your-own corn stalks (free-will donations, once again) that visitors can bundle up and take home to use as autumnal yard decor — or for feeding the squirrels, as Hunsinger likes to suggest.
Hunsinger enjoys catering to the photography enthusiasts, too. This year he’s added some “props” for folks to play with, including a rusty old tractor and a bale of hay placed in just the right spot for photos.
Family and senior portraits were big last year at the patch, Hunsinger says. One of his favorite memories from last summer, he says, was watching a minibus pull up to the patch and looking over from his yard as an entire wedding party, still decked out in their gowns and tuxes, came climbing out.
The wedding photographer had been driving around earlier that day scouting for photo locales and ultimately stumbled across Hunsinger’s patch, he recalls.
“I get a kick out of looking over there in the evening and seeing people really enjoy it,” Hunsinger says. “We generally don’t go over and bother people. We just let them go at their own pace.”
Of course, Hunsinger did make sure to greet the wedding party and offer his congratulations to the new couple. They’d only been married, he says, about an hour when they stopped by his patch.
Hunsinger says he opened this year’s patch last week. There’s only a “short window” to enjoy these flowers in full bloom, he says, meaning folks won’t have long to take their pictures before the beauties are gone.
“Last year we had about 12 days of good bloom and they started drying down really quick,” he says. “This year we’ve got a bit more moisture, so maybe they’ll last longer.”