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?