“It was Mr. Monaghan’s idea,” says Todd Crocker.

Many years ago, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan requested mass plantings of summer sunflowers at the company’s headquarters. Though Monaghan sold the company in 1998, he still owns Domino’s Farms–where, once again, the fields are jammed with maturing sunflower plants and crowning blooms.

Crocker, the grounds manager and the man who engineers the annual plantings, admits the project is one of the year’s largest. Along with farming 105 acres of hay and tending 300 acres of turf, planting the sunflowers requires the skills of a farmer and the perspective of a landscape designer. This year, it took about a week to plant 600 pounds of seed–Autumn Beauties on a pie-shaped wedge of land at the Plymouth/Earhart entrance, in a swath along the entrance’s white fence line, and on a new wide mound west of Ave Maria Chapel; and Mammoth Greys in a new, far-as-the-eye-can-see field near the petting farm.

The sunflowers bring with them their own entourage: plein air painters, photographers, “very few” flower snatchers, and a big increase in wildlife along the tree line. Julie Craves, supervisor of avian research at U-M Dearborn’s Rouge River Bird Observatory, says Ford Motor Company’s sunflower fields there draw tractor-following crows in the spring, while little seed-eaters–white crowned, fox, and chipping sparrows–stick around through the winters, eating well. A multitude of raptors follow those little birds.

A contracted farmer with a combine (the one piece of equipment Domino’s Farms doesn’t own) harvests the seeds in the fall. “We use it to feed the birds,” says Crocker–unless they’ve already eaten everything while it’s still in the fields. When the birds really pick over the heads, he says, “some years it’s not worth it” to harvest the remaining seeds.

If you plant them, they will come. Crocker takes great pleasure watching cars stop and families climb out to enjoy the yellow-crowned fields. Children have their pictures taken on their parents’ shoulders next to the nine-foot stalks, craning their necks to see the bobbing giant that seems to touch the late-summer clouds. Thanks to the late planting, a hot summer, and just-right rain, this year’s flowers will last well into September.