Our youngest granddaughter ran through the garden last week with our heartiest blessing. In response to a passerby’s query (“What are you doing, Bree?”) she replied with great enthusiasm at cheerleader volume, “I’m making MORE FLOWERS!”
Indeed she was. Given several heads of globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) and instruction on freeing the seed, she was making sure that pretty, drought tolerant, long blooming, sun-loving annual is waiting to grow in every bare spot in the front garden.
Globe amaranth provides lots of color without deadheading, as long as you do not mind its return the next year from the scale-like seeds that fall.
A friend calls this “Choose your weeds,” a strategy of filling bare space with plants you like well enough to allowing to seed around. Each spring your chosen ones will sprout and by their simple, desirable or temporary presence will shade out at least some of the “real” weeds. An important consideration in choosing your weeds is to use species you can easily remove, should you so decide. No fast, deep tap roots allowed!
The more often used name for this category of plant is "self-sown annual." Place the seed in fall, mark or remember the spot and come back after the seed germinates. Thin, remove or transplant as you wish.
We’ve developed a marker system we can both read, no pencils or labels involved. Where we sow the seed, we place a stalk of that plant on the open ground and peg- or pin it down. In the spring we will see the stalk and be reminded to leave that area clear of mulch – which would discourage or derail the planting – and to look there at intervals to see what sprouts.
Do we always recognize the seedlings? Not always, but we are familiar enough with the usual weeds, and assured by the pegged-down stalk we can give strange seedlings a chance to prove themselves.
We often start a self-sower in just one spot, chosen because it offers what the new addition might like in terms of sun, shade, moisture, etc. If the plant does well there, chances are good it will scatter its own seed to adjacent areas and gradually find its own best places in the garden.
Have we ever let things loose in a garden in this way and later regretted it? You bet. Love in a mist (Nigella damascena) has become something of a thug in our son and daughter-in-law’s landscape. It’s not yet reached the level of Terrorist To Be Ousted but we feel that coming. Its faults? Overabundance. It has a seed pod kids love to pop, so the seed falls thickly. Also, the resident gardeners take a relaxed approach to maintenance, letting plants remain in place to ripen seed (rather than pulling or cutting the plants as they fade). Seedlings grow so thickly now that none can bloom well without the extra step of thinning.
Here are self-sowers to consider. All are annual species or perennials fast enough to bloom in their first year and short lived so they can be treated as annuals. Most will probably naturalize if growing conditions are good. That is, they will scatter enough seed on their own so that you will not have to sow again.
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Bread poppy (Papaver somniferum. Of questionable legality but long tradition)
Calendula/Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Dill (Anethum graveolens) guaranteed to bring in black swallowtail caterpillars
Garden balsam (Impatiens balsamina)
Globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)
Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) 6’. Part shade. Hummingbird-approved
Johnny jump-up (Viola tricolor)
Snow on the mountain (North American prairie native, annual Euphorbia marginata)
Snow on the mountain:
This is a good topic to leave open via this link to Self Sowers on our Q&A Forum, as we can add photos at our leisure there and there are many other plants people will add to our list – with our blessing!
It’s also time to kick-start our revamped Forum. For too long we have avoided posting there because we were transplanting content from old- to new forum. Now we’d like to return to or old ways and continue conversations there.
(Note: You may notice the Forum is slow to load at first, a condition the programmers tell us is temporary until traffic returns.)