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Paul’s Garden Journal 2
Surprise, it’s spring.  Here and there in the garden and indeed in the paths flowers and vegetables are sprouting that we didn’t even plant.  These are the self seeding flowers and vegetables, known in the garden as “volunteers.”  To enjoy plants that plant themselves, you don’t have to live in Tennessee which has been the Volunteer State since the Mexican War, when a call for 2,800 volunteers brought out 30,000 Tennessee volunteers.

For a garden that's filled with bright, showy flowers that just keep giving and giving, plant self-seed annuals.  Many gardeners have had the pleasant surprise of finding pumpkins, melons, squash, and gourd vines growing out of a compost heap.  Often kitchen wastes that are put into the garden end up growing into crops of white potatoes from the potato peels.  Even famous fruit trees such as Granny Smith apples came from discarded fruits.

In the vegetable patch, those tomatoes that fell to the ground last year will send up seedlings well before most of us have even tilled the soil.  Leafy greens such as arugula, also called rocket (Eruca sativa) grows like a long leaved and open lettuce.  Its spicy flavor lends itself to salads or cooked to accompany pasta.  It’s even used on pizza, added just before the pizza is popped into the oven.

Arugula is rich in vitamin C and potassium.  Grown since roman times, it self sows so easily that is naturalized throughout much of North America.

Kale, or Borecole, (Brassica oleracea) is almost a wild cabbage so it’s no surprise that kale often self sows.  Kale is probably the hardiest domesticated vegetable that tolerates almost any soil and rarely suffers from pests or disease.

If you feed the birds you may be planting a bird garden.  Uneaten sunflower seeds often sprout on their own.

For a relaxed cottage flower garden or informal border, just let nature take its course with the seeds dropping where the wind takes them. Alyssum, (Lobularia maritime) for a low growing carpet.  Bachelor's buttons or cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) provide a burst of color on taller plants.  And you won’t be forgotten by self sowing Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum amabile) whose dainty blue flowers often escape into the woods.

Cleome (Cleome hassleriana) also called spider flower, is one of the best self seeding flowers.  It has tall 3 to 4 foot high stems with large pink, purple, white and rose blossoms.  Cleome self sows so well that it can become invasive at times. 

On the smaller end of the scale, Johnny jump-ups (Viola cornuta) are an old-fashioned favorite with small, pansy-like blooms.  The lively flowers are dark purple and yellow, often growing into a solid carpet of color for weeks. They prefer partial shade to full sun and rich, well-drained soil. This cheerful flower often pops up all over the garden, but due to its small size and more delicate make up never seems to become a pest.  Johnny jump ups will often colonize a meadow or open woods.

Calendulas (Calendula officinalis) are often called pot marigolds because they are a nice addition to soups and stews.   They will self sow for years returning with their bright orange and yellow flowers. Calendulas even stand up to early frosts often becoming the only bright spot in the fall garden.

Only open-pollinated and heirloom annuals will self-seed true to the parents. Hybrids usually won't return. To help things along, stop deadheading the flowers in late summer. Flower seeds are ripe when the flower has dried.  Harvest the seed heads and scatter them where you want them next summer. 

Self-seeders can pop up in places where you don’t want them, like the cracks of your sidewalks or patio.  But you can’t really hold self sowing plants responsible; they are after all, just volunteers.

Copyright (c) 2008 Paul Barbano