PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Bright yellow sunflowers are piercing the fog at the Presidio of Monterey thanks to a pair of green thumbs at the post's legal office and a gardening tradition that dates back nearly 100 years.
Mike Sutton, an attorney-advisor at the Presidio, has been growing sunflowers with the enthusiasm, he says, of a burgeoning hobbyist. The sunflowers dot along the yellow-on-tan legal building, with their necks twisting toward the sun, some multi-headed, others the more traditional singular flower head. Inside the snake-like interior of the legal offices, another sunflower sits alone on the break room's windowsill.
Sutton said the sunflowers came about for two reasons. First they were easy to grow, requiring nothing more than a little dirt, water and some sun. Second they grow out of reach of the Presidio's notorious deer population.
"Sunflowers seem to work because the wildlife can't get to it," Sutton laughed as he pointed to the seven-foot flower he's staked to the building.
This year Sutton wasn't alone growing sunflowers, as Aleshchai Herndon, a legal assistant, brought back a pack of seeds from Monticello, the Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson. A seasoned gardener, Herndon was hoping her Jeffersonian-sunflower seeds would be a simple addition to the office, but she forgot to read the fine print.
"I thought they would be really cute window sunflowers," Herndon said. "But then they grew and grew," The sunflowers quickly outgrew the office and Herndon relocated the plants outside.
That's when she enlisted the help of Sutton, and now like his plants, Herndon's are also growing vine-like along the building edges. The two even have a friendly competition to see who can grow the best sunflowers, but they said everyone seems to admire all the flowers. Sutton said a language teacher at the Defense Language Institute even donated a sunflower seedling to legal team's gardening corps.
Sutton added that growing plants just made sense in the unique environment presented by the Presidio.
"How often do you get an opportunity to work in an office that has a porch?" Sutton mused.
Like many of the buildings on the lower part of the Presidio, the legal offices are in one of the many 100-year-old barracks structures. It's easy to picture a cavalryman in 1905, after a long day of riding, taking in the sunset over Monterey Bay on the same porch. It's also easy to imagine them enjoying the view with flowers -- because there's proof.
An old photo dated 1930 shows the 11th Cavalry Regiment in formation on Soldier Field shows the building with a trio of colorfully planted window boxes.
Nearly a 100 years apart, the old cavalrymen probably felt the same as Herndon does about the colorful plants when the fog rolls in.
"It's nice to see a bit of bright yellow when it's grey outside," Herndon said.