Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

A Sunflower Maze Brings Happiness

Hello, fellow readers, What a joy to visit Liberty Farm’s Sussex County Sunflower Maze in Sandyston, NJ, who invited us for a special day bringing happiness.

It’s their 14th year of growing the maze. Raj Sinha started growing sunflowers when the New Jersey Audubon Society wanted locally grown sunflower seeds. People were interested in the 50-acre field, so Raj created an opportunity for folks to interact with the sunflowers “close and in person” and made the amazing maze. People travel from all over to visit, some coming right from the airport.

Sunflowers are a Feast for Pollinators.
a happy face of a large yellow sunflower with a honeybee standing in front of a field of sunflowers.

Each sunflower has up to 2 thousand florets filled with nectar, making them a pollinator lure.

An article in the New York Times from 2012 describes the grants from the New Jersey Audubon Society for farmers to grow sunflowers. Liberty Farms was one of them. They sold the seeds to fundraise to create a nesting habitat for grassland birds in the South Branch Wildlife Management Area, a state-owned property in Hillsborough and Readington townships to encourage species in decline.

Raj Sinha, owner of Liberty Farm (and his son) standing in his Sussex County Sunflower Maze with members of Mental Health Association.

Raj Sinha (and son) sharing happiness with Liberty Farm’s Sussex County Sunflower Maze with members of the Mental Health Association.

Of course, I had to share the story of the sunflowers I grew from seed in the vegetable garden hand-dug by my dear old grandpa, who lived with us his last years – he was a dairy farmer by trade. We’d have friendly banter about the sunflowers shading the vegetables and attracting birds that would peck at the tomatoes. “But they attract pollinators!” Raj said. That is what I told Grandpa –  How clever my comeback was, even as a kid.

Sunflowers can Heal Contaminated Land. 

Each sunflower has up to 2 thousand florets filled with nectar, making them a lure for bees and other pollinators. And they are hyperaccumulators, meaning they can absorb metal and radiation toxins. After Fukushima and Chornobyl, millions of sunflowers were planted to absorb the poisons. And fields of them are grown to heal land contaminated with lead.

Sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus ) are native to North America and were a common crop among native Americans who used all parts of the plant. Archaeological evidence suggests it was first grown as a crop about 3000 BC before corn.

After our interview, another kind fellow, perhaps Raj’s father-in-law, tending the Liberty Farm stand of produce, honey, bouquets of sunflowers, and seeds to grow your own, shared a story about one of the visitors who came back the following year to complain that the sunflowers faced the wrong way.

And Sunflowers Heals Hearts 

a mural of a bee with a cutout to take photographs next to a sunflower field Sunflowers are heliotropic; they follow the sun when young and when they first flower, but once fully flowered, they stay put facing east to attract pollinators. If shaded by a building or tree, they’ll turn and face a different way.

The visitor said the sunflowers didn’t face their yard but their neighbor, who they didn’t get along with. But their sunny faces turned the dynamics around because the neighbor thought that they planted sunflowers for them. Now they are best friends, which is a delightful story. The punchline is she came to buy more seeds to grow on the other side of her house so they’ll face her, too.

Liberty Farm’s Sussex County Sunflower Maze hosts special events.
a field of large yellow sunflowers that look like happy faces below a blue sky.

Liberty Farm’s Sussex County Sunflower Maze filled with Happy Faces.

People come to the maze for special occasions, to make milestone announcements, take photographs, and Liberty Farm’s Sussex County Sunflower Maze hosts weddings and other events. They kindly offered accommodation to the organization I’m benefitting from since March when I met Annette Hoffman & Carrie Parmelee at the Game of Life event held at the Sussex County Technical School, Lafayette, NJ. We spoke about it in A Successional Forest of Growth. Agencies from all over the county were there.

High School students were given scenarios of challenges that can happen in life to match with community service. I was there representing Comfort Zone Camp, a grief camp for kids and young adults. Annette and Carrie were tending the Mental Health Association table, supporting families and friends of individuals with mental illness, and offering early intervention support services in Northern NJ.

Per their website, “We’re here to listen, help, and remove the stigma associated with emotional and mental health issues and to inspire hope and healing.”

The Smiling Faces of Sunflowers soothe the soul. 
A selfie of Mary Stone smiling and wearing a beige sun hat with a happy sunflower.

I couldn’t help but snag a selfie :^)

What a treat for those of us benefiting from their services to roam the fields. As oppressively hot as it was that day, the kindness of Raj and his family and the smiling faces of his acres of sunflowers brought us happiness. Amongst the group were two gardeners who shared lovely photos of their artistry. Indeed, gardening helps heal and soothe the soul.

Garden Dilemmas?

There’s more to the story, including my healing journey through the help of the Mental Health Association’s IFSS Program in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast.

Helpful Links:

Mental Health Association (serving Northern NJ) supports families and friends of individuals with mental illness. And offers early intervention support services.

For Support Nationwide, contact NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness)



Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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