Lori Huffman

As a child growing up in urban Harris County, Texas, Suzie especially loved going to her grandparents’ farm for long summer visits. There were many things on the farm that she fancied…the wonderful variety of fresh fruits and vegetables her grandmother grew in her kitchen garden; chasing lightning bugs across the yard after sunset; and listening to the chorus of summer insects while rocking in one of the old wood chairs on the front porch.

Occasionally the region was plagued with drought for years at a time, but the farm thrived again under the seasonal rains.  Each year, her grandfather rotated his crops; he planted broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and kale, corn, and always includes a cheerful field of sunflowers. The plants are raised for seeds (a healthy snack), for oil production, as feed for cattle, as well as for the ornamental blooms. Suzie loved the sunflowers best, so her visit was always planned to occur during mid-summer when the giant flowers are at their peak.

The lovely, giant plants have a hearty root system that stretches deep into the ground to draw out nutrients, minerals and moisture the plant needs to grow so it can survive on less rainfall than some other crops. Contrary to popular belief, only the unopened buds ‘follow the sun with their face’ during the day. Once in bloom, the plant only faces east to protect itself from the hot afternoon summer sun. A few weeks after reaching full bloom, the heads begin to turn brown, droop, and fill with seeds. As they bend down, they create their own ‘umbrella’ to protect the seeds from birds, the rain and sun.

Suzie kept a floppy straw hat on a hook inside the front door so she could shade her face from the sun. She hated being teased about the new freckles that appeared each summer across her nose and cheeks. Her grandmother told her to treasure them because “a girl without freckles is like a night without stars”. Suzie wasn’t sure that was true but it sounded lovely.

As Suzie grew up, her summer chores at the farm were adjusted according to her ability and interest. She loved working with the soil and watching things grow and she always paid special attention to her grandfather’s instructions and explanations. And, like the sunflowers she loved, Susan thrived in the sunshine and fresh air.

By the time she was a teenager, her family and friends had begun calling her “Sunflower Suzie”, which was sometimes shortened to just “Sunny”. It fit her cheerful disposition and ready smile, so the nickname stuck.

Suzie’s passion for nature and gardening led her to learn as much as she could about landscaping principles, soils and plant nutrition, various kinds of gardening — including growing plants in patio containers. She studied the impact of insects — both good and bad – plant diseases, weed management, the benefits of composting, and the critical importance of water conservation in landscaped areas and for turf irrigation.

Today, as an adult with a family of her own, Sunflower Suzie is still happiest when she’s helping Mother Nature outdoors and when she shares what she has learned with others!  She has created several special workshops that are appropriate for adults and youngsters. Some sessions involve making things to enhance a garden, like bird feeders, wind chimes made from everyday items, and decorative pots for planting seedlings. Water conservation tips are at the core of all of Suzie’s programs because, as she says, “Every living thing needs water to survive and we have to learn to use it wisely!”