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Tenacious sunflower has a following in South Hill neighborhood

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 25, 2017, 4:14 p.m.

Flowers that bloom where they’re planted bring delight to gardeners everywhere, but in one South Hill neighborhood, a sunflower that sprang up where it wasn’t planted has provided a source of unexpected joy.

Ed and Georgia Merz have a garden next to their driveway and always plant a sunflower or two. One day last spring they noticed something green peeking out from a crack in the street next to their curb.

“We immediately knew it was a sunflower, so we left it alone,” Ed Merz said.

Well, not exactly alone. When the plant didn’t wilt, they started watering it, and to their amazement it continued to grow.

The couple speculate that a bird or a breeze carried the seed to the crack in the pavement, and somehow it found enough soil to put down roots.

“Sunflowers grow pretty fast,” said Merz.

But he was still astonished at the plant’s tenacity. He added decorative edging to help protect it, and soon the sunflower became the talk of the neighborhood.

When Merz last measured, it stood at a stately 7 1/2 feet.

Donn and Dude Thompson live across the street. When the Merzes traveled over the summer, Donn took on the watering duties and Dude gave the plant a name.

“I named her Suzie,” said Dude. “Eddie and Donn were taking care of her like she was a baby, so I felt she should have a name.”

Neighbor Dan Penna noticed the sunflower when it was a few feet tall.

“I walk my twin sister’s dog a couple times a day,” he said. “I would see Donn out there watering her. It’s almost like she’s the baby of the neighborhood.”

Rose Lime lives three houses down and saw the sunflower on her daily walks.

“I didn’t think it would make it, or even flower,” she recalled.

However, the Merzes and the Thompsons took their protective duties seriously.

Donn built a little dam around the plant’s base to ensure she got the water she needed during the hot summer months.

“When a friendly neighborhood squirrel broke off one of her limbs, I scolded him,” said Donn. “He just looked at me.”

And Merz performed first aid on the sunflower.

“One blustery day in late June I noticed the stem had kinked and was hanging at a 90-degree angle,” he recalled. “So I splinted it, just like you’d do a broken bone.”

To his surprise the splint worked, and later he added a stake to give the now-flowering beauty additional support.

Her gorgeous yellow blossoms attracted many passers-by.

“I’ve seen half a dozen people gathered around Suzie, chatting,” said Penna.

The sunflower also provided a great photo op.

“She really brightens your day,” said Lime, who began taking selfies with Suzie on her walks.

She wasn’t the only one.

“Suzie is the most photographed flower on the street,” Merz said. “She’s truly a miracle.”

Her arrival may seem miraculous, but Master Gardener and Spokesman-Review garden columnist Pat Munts said, “It’s more common than you’d think. Sunflowers are tough plants. Give them just what they need and obviously no more and they will bloom their hearts out.”

That may be true, but to the Merzes what is undeniably miraculous is that though the sunflower bloomed at the edge of a well-trafficked street, her beauty has remained unmolested.

“Through the entire summer, with lots of folks walking past Suzie on their strolls, no one tampered with this plant when it was in its tender and vulnerable stage,” said Merz.

As the chilly nights set in, Suzie is still standing tall, but her blossoms are beginning to droop. Merz said neighbors frequently ask him if the sunflower will bloom again next year.

“Unfortunately, they’re not perennials, so her glory will be brief,” he said.

But Munts offered some hope.

“If one plant started there and dropped some seeds, then there could be more Suzies next year,” she said.

And if it turns out Suzie’s unexpected appearance was only temporary, the joy and inspiration she offered will long be remembered in the neighborhood.

“She was planted by God in a little crack in the pavement,” marveled Donn Thompson. “It’s unbelievable what God does for us!”