Have you planted yours yet? I am talking about sunflowers. Synonymous with Van Gogh, sunny summer days and fancy dress outfits at the test match, they are guaranteed to raise a smile and some rivalry – whether it is at play group, the allotment or a residential home for the elderly. Everyone wants to have the tallest.
The UK honour goes to Wigan’s Richard Hope, who set the record in 2012 with a towering 26-footer. But even that is overshadowed by the world record holder, a German plant that reached the lofty height of 31ft in 2014.
So now you know where the bar has been set, you had better get cracking!
All around my village you will find little packets of seeds being given away, encouraging everyone young and old to have a go. But this time it is not just a bit of fun, because the sunflower has become the symbol of Ukraine’s fight for freedom. In fact, the sunflower is its national flower and an important one at that.
Introduced to the country in the mid 18th century, the seeds can be eaten as a snack or crushed to make oil, which has become a major, and valuable, export commodity. In fact, Ukraine typically exports about half of the world’s sunflower oil supply and is the largest global producer. But if you have tried to buy some sunflower oil in the supermarket, you will most likely have found it is in short supply and been rationed as a result of the war with Russia.
Yes, we can manage without our sunflower oil, but Ukraine can not manage without our support in their time of need. We can’t just carry on as normal and pretend nothing is happening, can we? Wimbledon has taken that stance and come under fire from some quarters as a result.
It is a tricky one and in the past, I for one have felt that sport should be separate from politics because sport can be a persuasive tool in breaking down barriers and prejudices, and uniting countries when other avenues fail. But sport can also be used as a propaganda tool and can be seen as an endorsement of a regime that seeks to paper over the cracks of human rights.
So, while I feel desperately sorry for individual players from Russia and Belarus who will not be playing at Wimbledon this year, I feel it is the right decision. I just hope we will be in a position to welcome them back in the near future – and that my sunflower will be the tallest in our village!