Monday, November 22, 2010

Volunteers that Lend a Gardener an Unrequested Helping Hand

Nothing endures but change.
Heraculitus (540 BC-480 BC), from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers

If your vision for your garden is adaptable and you take delight in little surprises, then you may be interested in inviting self-seeding volunteers into your garden.

Forget-me-nots are probably the most familiar garden self-seeders. They look wonderful as an understory for tulips and early spring bloomers. The only drawback is that Forget-me-nots have a bad habit of turning into a bedragled brown mess covered in powdery mildew in late spring. You either love them or think they are an annoying weed!

While Forget-me-nots may be the most common, there are many other self-seeders that can add color to your garden. Here are some volunteers at work in my garden.

There are large sections of my garden under the cover of mature trees, and so I welcome anything that can take the shade. Under the canopy of a large maple, Violets add early spring color. Resilient little troopers, Violets have now self-seeded into both sunny and shaded crevices throughout the garden.

My neighbors across the street have a whole bed dedicated to Calendula, a happy orange and yellow annual. Before I knew it, I had uninvited Calendula in my own front garden. And now this year, just about everyone at this end of the block has Calendula in their garden! ( Just keep that vigor in mind!)

Growing up, I wasn't fond of Calendulas in my mother's garden, because though I like the flowers, I thought that the seed heads were kind of ugly. I didn't consider planting it in my own garden for this reason.

I must confess that in these last couple of years, I have come to better appreciate Calendula. Undemanding of anything but a sunny spot, it shows up every summer to add a punch of bright color to my July garden and keeps blooming until late fall. These days, I just lop off most of those ugly seed heads as they appear. If the plant gets messy looking, I rip it out.

Like Calendula, Feverfew is a happy-go-lucky flower that shows up in the oddest nooks and crannies. I welcome it wherever it turns up.

Whenever I see poppies, I think of my mother. She loved poppies and collected as many different varieties as she could find. A few years back, Mum sent me seeds in the mail and I have had annual poppies in my garden every year since.

Just be forewarned, annual poppies are such great self-seeders that can easily take over a flower bed if you let them.

Yellow Fumitory is another shade loving self-seeder. I love the fern-like leaves and it blooms non-stop all summer. It can spread readily, but any unwanted seedlings are easy to pull out.

Though, as you can see, I already have a collection of plant volunteers, I still have a wish list of self-seeding biennials that I hope to add to my garden. After seeing hollyhocks in a nearby garden in Norval, I'd love to add these tall beauties to my own garden. 

Even though hollyhocks like the sun (which is at a premium in my garden) and are prone to rust a fungal disease that leaves unsightly orange spots, I want to find a spot at the back of one of my borders for them.

Foxglove is one biennial that I keep trying unsuccessfully to introduce to my garden. I have tired plants in the past without luck, so next summer I think I will give seeds a go. If you have any tips for me on growing foxgloves, I'd love to hear them!


  1. I have never had success with Foxglove. I used to grow enormous Hollyhocks in my previous garden and they were prone to rust. I have recently seen newer varities in my neighbourhood that look happy and healthy during the entire growing season so maybe they've improved on some types.

  2. Wonderful post. I cherish plants that still retain their ability to reproduce and set seed. Forget-me-nots are definitely at home in my garden. Another favourite self seeder is Aquilegia or Columbine. Not only do they self seed, they will cross pollinate and produce unexpected blooms.

  3. In my yard the Forget-me-nots are extremely invasive. I wouldn't wish them on anyone -must be the variety. I have been trying to help my hollyhock along with the self seeding because the colour is so beautiful. I get one or two plants a year but, sadly, not enough to plant elsewhere. The colour on your Calendula is stunning.

  4. Hi Jennifer and wow with those calendula !
    I grew them years ago in Nova Scotia but haven't quite gotten them in the garden here yet .. you have reminded me ? ; )
    I have Labrador Violets that self seed every where and I don't mind a bit .. volunteers that we love are very much appreciated .. the ones we don't well .. that is what the compost is for ? LOL
    Joy : )

  5. Wild Violets have found there way into some of my beds and I welcome them in the spring. I love the Feverfew and am going to have to get some seeds to try them next spring. They look so cheerful and pretty.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  6. I would be happy if any of these plants came back on their own!

  7. The photos that you posted here are beyond beautiful.

  8. What a treat to see all these blooms on a cold "wintry" feeling day. I can't wait to see them in real life again! Love that vintage watering can photo. That's fabulous.
    Wish I could offer some foxglove tips. The only one I know is to mulch the first year seedlings heavily (so they don't dry out thru the winter). I struggle to keep them going here too but being better at mulching has helped some. Even if I don't get any to return, I end up buying more plants because I want them so badly! This year I planted some on a shaded southeast corner ~ gets more protection from the wind there so I'm crossing my fingers that works! Good luck!

  9. Volunteers can be a gardener's best friend! I have to try to get forget-me-nots into my garden; I can never get enough low-growing things for shady places. The combination of Bleeding Hearts and Forget-me-nots is lovely.

    Foxglove are a cinch to grow from seed but they don't reseed for me, probably because of top dressing. The seeds are so tiny.

    The volunteers in your garden are gorgeous!

  10. Ah yes, so beautiful in bloom as shown in your lovely photos but many do get out of hand. I adore the violet (in nosegays/salads/candied) when it blooms but, way too happy in my garden/lawn spend the rest of the gardening season ripping it out from everywhere! I have a sea of forget-me-not at the cottage where I can let them go wild!

  11. Incredible colour array of beautiful blooms. I really needed that, we've been under a blanket of snow for over a week! The poppy is gorgeous.

  12. What a terrific post. Loved all the flowers....

  13. They look amazing. I want to have some poppies for my garden next year. Is good to know they will keep on giving.


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