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Seeing the sunny side: Artist explores new world of sunflower cultivation

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Jul 9, 2021

Shepherdstown resident Nancy Stewart, left, talks with Sunny Side of the Street Sunflowers Market founder Robin Young in front of Evolve on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit Shepherdstown in March 2020, some of the people it impacted the most were artists, who previously made ends meet by selling their work at art shows and galleries. But the pandemic forced many art shows to be canceled and art galleries to be closed, leaving artists scrambling for alternative ways to make a living.

For painter Robin Young, of Shepherdstown, the solution to her problem lay in the cultivation of a flower that she used to regularly paint at the beginning of her career.

“During the COVID-19 Pandemic, I came up with the idea to grow sunflowers. This was a great idea for me, because it doesn’t require employees,” Young said on Saturday afternoon in Evolve, where she was launching the sales side of her business, Sunny Side of the Street Sunflowers Market.

The Sunny Side of the Street Sunflowers Market was held as a pop-up shop in front of Evolve on both Saturday and Sunday. It will continue to be held on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at O’Hurley’s General Store through the first frost in October.

“I started planting seeds first on April 1 indoors. I started transplanting them out in May to the garden. I have about 22 varieties planted,” Young said, mentioning she was surprised to see her sunflowers beginning to bloom already this summer.

A display of individual sunflowers and sunflower bouquets stands in front of Evolve on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Each week, to ensure the sunflowers continue to bloom in large enough patches for regular sale, Young is planting and transplanting 200 sunflowers into her garden. While Young is carefully developing her sunflower cultivation and sales practices, she is also trying to do so in a way that she can still enjoy her semi-retired lifestyle.

“I told myself at the beginning of this, ‘I’m not going to do this to wear myself out,'” Young said. “It’s a lot of trial by error. I knew I would make a lot of mistakes, but it’s okay to not do things perfectly. It’s okay to do things just because you enjoy them!”

According to Young, she never understood the allure gardening held, until she began this venture.

“I’ve never done gardening of this magnitude! It’s been good for my soul. It’s so enjoyable and relaxing,” Young said, mentioning her garden by her barn on the outskirts of Shepherdstown, in which she houses two horses and two donkeys. “I tune my radio to a classical music station in the barn, and the horses love it! I think the flowers love it, too!”

After the sunflower season has ended, Young anticipates spending the intervening months from then through April, pursuing her painting with a renewed passion.

“It’s inspired me. It really has invigorated me!” Young said. “So let’s see where it takes me next.”