Sunflower sutra


There is a climactic scene in the charming if strange independent movie Elvis & Anabelle. The lead male character, Elvis, a budding mortician, is about to commit suicide when he notices out his window that a field of sunflowers has magically burst into bloom outside his window. The sight revives his spirits, he makes one last effort to win back his love, and all ends well, pretty much.

Phytoremediation is one of the reasons sunflowers dominate in the Urban Habitat Project, a demonstration garden that is meant to revive some neglected and abused acres surrounding Buffalo’s Art Deco Central Terminal, a former train station that is gradually being brought back to productive use.

The sunflowers are joined by native perennials, fruiting trees and shrubs, bat houses, a wetland area, and other elements designed to provide habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies. Now a Registered Monarch Way station and a designated Bat and Pollinator Conservation Site, the area has long been hosting turkeys, foxes, weasels, blue herons, and, of course, deer. The UHP is the brainchild of local landscaper Dave Majewski, who intends to beautify a blighted section of Buffalo as well as educate the public and city officials that unmowed and natural does not mean “hazard,” “dangerous,” and “eyesore.” This is definitely the type of planting that—were it to appear in the front yard of a middle-class suburban or urban (depending on neighborhood) property—might raise a neighborly outcry.

I enjoy the sunflowers and the whole planting. I am not even close to suicidal but walking through this site on a late September afternoon did revive my spirits.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I read “bathouse” and thought you had written “bath house.” Now that would be interesting! Talk about wild life.

    Seriously, though, “bat house” is two words.

  2. It looks like a couple of acres are involved in this planting. The unmowed meadow look is much easier to pull off and look right in a larger space than the confines of a suburban or urban sized lot.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth! My photographer husband and I will have to drive over next September and see this. Awesome. I wonder who I could talk to about getting Rochester to do likewise……

    • Susan, you could visit it during Garden Walk if you wanted. Much more fodder for your husband, and i understand it looked great all summer. I just didn’t get there until September.

  4. Love this! Those look like annual sunflowers, is that right? Have they considered planting some perennial sunflowers like Helianthus occidentalus?

  5. Yes they are the annuus. I think these suited the plans to use seeds and let birds spread the seeds. But this is VERY much a work in progress.

  6. How exciting! On a blue sky day this would be stunningly beautiful! I can imagine the thousands of birds and honeybees (and bats!) who love this. Thank you for sharing.

  7. The bat houses are yet to be occupied. There are two new area honey bee hives that have since established this season around the perimeter of the Habitat. They are near public right of ways. A bee “contractor” will be moving them next spring in to the Habitat. The Helianthus annus is a better phyto remiadiator. We are afraid of the sunflower dominating too much next year. This is a site designed to evolve differently each year. The wildflowers and legumes will begin to establish much better in the 2nd season. Senna, vernonia, eupatorium, echinacea, partridge pea, etc…. and about 15 speicies of native grasses; will all begin to show much better by next summer. The mason bee posts that the Scouts put in have all been occupied by pollinators this season. The monarchs each day have been spectacular and almost countless.

  8. A lot of the sunflowers in our area are planted for biofue. Several farmers got together and got a grant for equipment to process the seeds to make a sunflower seed oil that they could use in their tractors and farm equipment. They do have to struggled with the depredations of birds and bears, but it is a great project.

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