SOMD’s secret sunflower fields offer something fresh

Morganza, MD - Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of Southern Maryland’s farming community can soon be found blooming in the backcountry of St. Mary’s County. A picturesque, 4.5-acre sunflower maze almost directly across the street from Chopticon High School is where one innovative farmer has planted his second field of flowers for this year. Goldpetal Farms Owner, Jerry Spence, is now entering into his fifth year of growing the unique crop around the area and has come a long way since his first day.

“I was looking for different ventures I could do,” Spence explained. “The county already has corn mazes and things like that so I wanted to do something different and I thought this would be really neat… to try and grow sunflowers and use them as a maze. People love sunflowers, [but] it’s an interesting crop to grow.

The most significant difficulty is they only bloom reliably for about two-and-a-half weeks. Some years I can get maybe a week longer, but the challenge is there is such a limited time availability. With a corn maze, the corn can stand there for a month-and-a-half, but with these, people only want to come when they bloom and they are only beautiful for about three-and-a-half weeks max. The longest season I have ever had was 28 days for a single maze and I’ve had it as short as 17 depending on the weather… so by the time [people] realize I’m here, it’s already shut down.”

While the creation of both mazes clearly has been shrouded in difficulty, Spence has demonstrated at both locations that his venture is bringing something unique to the area. While this is only his second year of planting a second sequential maze, there are some slight changes between the two. From the varying amounts of geometry that Spence used to cut the mazes, to the variety of flowers that he planted, he hopes to offer the most “unique” product possible in the coming years.

“There’s probably thousands of varieties of sunflowers, and the colors come from any almost white like a really pale yellow, all the way up to a dark burgundy or maroon or almost black color,” Spence said. “This maze in particular, I try to pick more reds with lots of variety. That other maze in Chaptico I try to stick with different shades of yellow, like almost a canary yellow color… I’m doing a lot of work on trying to create a unique product, I am actually starting this year on hybridizing some my own varieties so over time I will have some unique flowers that are genuinely unique, but it’s going to take about five or six [more] years to get to that point.”

The Morganza maze, which will open on July 21 for a limited four-hour trial run, will be sporting a wide variety of flowers. The maze alone will feature six different types of sunflowers; however, the designated “cut-flower garden” that is planted near the entrance of the maze, will have upwards of 20 different sunflower varieties. Some of the sunflower varieties that Spence has noted as “favorites” include “Pro-Cut Orange” and “Autumn Beauty.”

However, a slightly unusual phenomena has been observed from this maze regarding the direction of the bloom according to Spence.

“The one bad thing about this location… is that sunflowers [should always] point to the southeast after they start blooming. But for some reason, and I think it’s the lights at Chopticon High School, these flowers face northeast,” Spence explained while pointing to the school. “As my visitors come [and park], they will be looking at the back of the flowers. To see that beautiful view, you will have to walk out to the second half of the maze and look back.”

Although Spence currently only runs two mazes a year, he says he does hope to expand Goldpetal Farms even more. But that expansion might have to wait until the days where he is retired from his full-time job.

“Two mazes is about all I can do… since I do this on a part-time basis. I’d love to do more of this in the future, maybe as a retirement thing I will expand it some, but now I’m just focusing on trying to tweak everything to make everything work,” Spence said. “An example would be I’ve never run a mist station before, so this year I am building mist stations to help people cool off when they come out of the maze. I am always trying to improve upon what I’ve done previously. I don’t want it to be stale for people that come.”

The maze, which is located at 25120 Coltons Point Road in Morganza, has special hours for July 21, which will run from 5-9 p.m. The typical hours for the maze will be Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m., but that is only somewhat concrete. For example, if Monday is supposed to be a cooler weather day, it would not be surprising for dates and hours of operation to shift. Stay up to date on hours and information regarding the maze on their Facebook(@Goldpetal Farms) or Instagram(@goldpetal_farms),

Spence recommends coming near peak bloom, which he expects to commence around July 23, which will also be their first day of regular hours. And don’t forget to bring a camera.

“I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a good year so far,” Spence said. “The weather up until this point (the heat), adequate rains until this week, good marketing, and I’ve had good attendance. This has been the year that I finally feel like I’ve done something. It has taken five years to really get to this point, but it’s nice to get there.”

“It’s going to be gorgeous.”

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