Sustainability made easy

Would you like hundreds of bright flowers, herbs and vegetables in your garden, which you haven’t had to plant, or care for? Which thrive in thin soil, surprise you by popping up in beds you’ve prepared for other plants, or materialise in remote corners of your garden? If you don’t have this, you absolutely can, and you won’t have to spend a cent at the nursery, either!


Foxgloves, renowned hardy self-seeders, and a favourite in my childhood garden.

I could get away with doing next to nothing for a whole year in my garden, and purple and white honesty, golden calendulas, yellow-and purple heartsease, orange poppies and sky-blue nigella, would still appear in September and remain with me over the Summer. I’d also have parsley and rocket, for my summer salads.


Honesty, purple and white, popped up out of nowhere in my camellia garden

For these I thank the previous owners of my house, who planted these hardy, self-seeding annuals. They appeared as a wonderful surprise in my first Spring here, and I’ve been encouraging (but not pampering) them, ever since.


Self-sown calendulas, with  purple honesty in the background.

Self-seeding plants are generally drought tolerant, hardy and attractive to beneficial insects. I love the way they spread themselves randomly through the garden. They’re propagated as the wind and rain transport their seeds unpredicatably. They cross the borders between flower and vegetable patches with impunity. To me there’s nothing more appealing than seeing little heartsease flowers popping up in crevices between pavers, or alyssum sprinkled in amongst other flower or vegetable plants. Not to mention having a reliable supply of parsley. Many of these varieties grow in tough, hot places, with scant soil, surviving as charming, serendipitous decorations to the garden.


Alyssum, self-seeds year after year.

Other reliable, tough self-seeders include Californian poppy, amaranth, borage, foxglove, verbena, aquilegia, nasturtium, sunflower, rocket and in some areas, basil.


Red amaranth, pom-pom style, came up every year in my mother’s garden.

After flowering, if the plants are allowed to remain in situ as they die and dry out, the seeds develop thanks to the attentions of the bees and other pollinators.


Heavenly nigella, also known as “love-in-a mist”- I eagerly await the appearance of its feathery foliage in this dry, shady corner of my garden, every year.

Eventually the dried, dead seed heads release their seeds which remain dormant in the soil until the next Spring arrives.

So, how to encourage your marvellous self-seeding annuals? Here are some tips.

  • You can simply let the seeds fall where they are, and the wind and rain will move them around the garden for you.
  • You can scatter pieces of the seed heads wherever you’d like them to germinate.
  • You can cut off whole seed heads, place them in paper bags in a dry place, to collect the seed and give to your friends.
  • It’s easy to learn to recognize the seedlings so you don’t accidentally kill them.
  • Being hardy plants, once the seedlings appear you can simply lift and move them to another location.
  • When the seedlings appear in Spring, feed them with some soluble fertiliser. I’ve found this helps to retain the vigour of the flowers and seeds which can otherwise slowly diminish from one season to the next.


Heatrsease pops up everywhere these days, including in my lawn- this is the 4th generation.

I’ve heard of some other ingenious ways to propagate the seeds of these tough survivors.

  • You can sow them sideways into a stone wall or rockery, by mixing seeds with soil and pushing it into the cracks. Alternatively, you can push the dry seed heads into gaps between the stones.
  • Before they shed their seeds, add the dried-out seed heads to a “cool” compost heap (they won’t survive in “hot” compost). The seeds will lie dormant until you use the compost to improve or to mulch your soil, and will then germinate when exposed to the light.


Vigorous single calendulas took over these potted iris, for the summer. They’re the great-great-grandparents of the calendulas which are flowering for me now!

Do you have self-seeding plants in your garden?




18 Comments Add yours

  1. anner6556 says:

    I’m envious Jane. We have a heap of self-seeders and they’re called weeds — not a gem amongst them.

    Anne x

    Sent from Bruce & Anne’s iThingy


  2. My Dream Garden says:

    Yes Anne, I think the climate out here is particularly favourable for self-seeding- or maybe less favourable, such that they don’t get out of control and become weeds, as they may do in more temperate climates!

  3. My Dream Garden says:

    But Anne, what about nasturtiums? xx

    1. tonytomeo says:


      1. My Dream Garden says:

        Hi Tony, I’m with you 100% about nasturtiums. On the coast they’re awesome. I haven’t had success yet in Mudgee, although others seem to be able to grow them here. I’ve just bought some more seeds, I won’t give up yet!

  4. tonytomeo says:

    Some people have no idea about what sustainability is. They use it as a buzz word, but continue to plant things that need more water (than they get in our climate). Of course, sustainable gardens here would not look like yours, but it can still be done. There really are plants that will grow quite nicely here.

    1. tonytomeo says:

      Unfortunately, nasturtiums need more water than what we get from rain. They naturalize on the coast. I have some in town where they get water.

    2. My Dream Garden says:

      Yes, I’m no expert on sustainability but this aspect is working surprisingly well for me here. I recently spotted some yuccas growing in the bush so I’m going to take some pieces for my home garden. And there are a lot of giant aloe type plants also growing wild out here. It gets extremely dry and hot here, most summers.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Oh my! Yuccas! I really dig them, even the common giant yucca! That is an entire group that should be more popular in our chaparral climate. (I mean those that are not tropical). For a while, I had 48 of the 49 specie of yucca that were known at the time (without the varieties).

  5. Catherine Neill says:

    Ooh your garden is looking fabulous! A lot of my garden are self sown flowers and herbs, I like to think of them as a better class of weeds. Parsley, rocket, feverfew, basil, coriander, chives, poppies, sweetpeas, alyssum, catmint – and lots more. I’m always glad when I see them coming up, and I scatter their dried seed all over the place.

  6. My Dream Garden says:

    Sounds wonderful Catherine! I like the sound of a better class of weeds- it’s all relative isn’t it? Climatic forces seem to be in control, limiting growth and keeping the seed viable over winter. I think I’ll be trying some of the plants you’ve listed, that I don’t already have. Am I correct in thinking you live out west in NSW? If so your climate and mine at Mudgee would probably be reasonably similar. Best wishes, Jane

  7. Catherine Neill says:

    Yes, you’re right about where I live. It’s hotter here, colder where you are, but similar. I can’t grow nasturtiums here either, but I know people who do. They grew everywhere when I lived on the coast.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      I’m giving nasturtiums one last chance. I’ll Let you know how I go!

  8. glenyset says:

    Heartease is one of my favourite plants. I can’t help smile when I see them. We’ve just moved to the area and are on a 25 acre block and I’m really enjoying watching what’s popping up through the seasons. No heartease but I’ll definitely be planting some. Larkspurs are one of my favourite self seeders too.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi there Glenyse, nice to hear from you. I’ve never grown larkspurs so I will give them a try. I’m planning a future blog on discovering the hidden gems in an “inherited” garden, it’s an exciting experience.

  9. Jane Ivers says:

    I love self seeding plants too, and the fact that they appear Year after year. Not having as many this year, I think because of the lack of decent rain. I would add portulacas to your list…thoroughly reliable, hardy, and colourful plants.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Jane, I will definitely get some portulacas started in my garden!

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