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Exwick's Giant Sunflower

Page added 25th January 2011

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The largest yew tree in the United Kingdom can be found at Llangernyw, Wales, while the largest Royal Oak grows at Nonington, Kent. While these specimens have taken hundreds of years to grow, it is to Exwick that we can look for a world record in horticulture.

In the spring of 1975, Garden News gave away free packets of sunflower seeds in a national competition to grow a giant sunflower. Frank Kelland of Ewhurst Villa in Exwick Road put his free seeds in a drawer and promptly forgot about them – in late April he remembered the seeds and decided to plant them out, rather later than normal. Then, along with 170,000 other readers of the magazine, he carefully tended his growing plants, in their bed next to his house. Not all went well, for the young plants were attacked by slugs, destroying all but two. Still Frank Kelland continued to feed the two plants with a liquid farmyard manure, as they grew, and grew and grew.

By mid July, both plants were 5ft 3in tall, but a month later, one of the plants was streaking ahead. By September the sunflower head of the rampant plant measured 1ft 7.5 inches (50 cm) in diameter and was over 20ft (6m) tall. When the plant ceased to grow it measured 21 ft 5.5 inches (6.54 m) high – it was the first sunflower in the world to pass 20ft, becoming a world record. That was enough for Frank to win the first prize of £1,400 from Garden News. He was presented with his winning cheque at his home, by Geoff Amos the gardening writer on 10th November 1975.

Frank's success was soon known across the world, as subscribers received their copy of Garden News. Not only were the Sun and Daily Telegraph reporting on the extraordinary sunflower, but so were newspapers across the world, including the Freelance Star, Virginia, the San Diego Union and the Saarbrucker Zeitung. Suttons Seeds featured the sunflower in its adverts and the pupils of Foxhayes School filed through Frank's garden to admire the giant specimen. He received letters and photographs and offers to swap seed for other record breaking plants from across the world. Letters and cards arrived simply addressed to 'Frank Kelland, Exeter, England' and 'Mr and Mrs Frank Kelland, Super Sunflower Grower, Exeter'.

The second record breaker

The next year Frank tried again, using seed saved from his record breaking sunflower of 1975. Using yet more manure and a secret formula fertiliser, another plant growing in the same bed, reached a height of 23 ft 6.5 inches (7.17 m). This time, Frank's record sunflower entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest. In 1986 the world record was broken with a sunflower over 25ft (7.76 m) high, although Frank still holds the British record.

Sources - Records kept by Frank Kelland's daughter.

Giant sunflower Frank Kelland by his giant sunflower.

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