Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Opportunist

The Opportunist -- that's Me!

Everyone understands the time-honoured ritual of buying seeds from a catalogue or Garden Centre, and then sowing them. This blog-post however is about getting plants for free...

Whenever I am weeding or just tidying-up the garden I am always on the lookout for self-seeded plants that I can adopt. They are what I call "Volunteers". It pays to be good at recognising plants at the "tiny" stage, so that you can distinguish between weeds and plants you might like to keep. You would be surprised how many little seedlings you can find amongst all the bigger stuff. They are sometimes self-propagated seedlings of a plant that has grown in that place in an earlier season, and sometimes things which have snuck in by some other means, for instance seeds imported in bird-droppings. This year I found in amongst my bean plants one of a variety (Hunter) that I had not sown. My theory on this one is that a Hunter seed must have got mixed in with the seeds of one of the other types of bean during the supplier's packing process.

The uninvited guest Hunter has repaid my hospitality with a crop of succulent pods...

When you find something worth keeping, the best thing to do is extract it and pot it up so that you can nurture it prior to planting it out in a suitable position at a later stage. Look at this for instance... This is the base of an old Lavender plant growing in a pot on my patio. It is so old and leggy that I have been contemplating discarding it. I tried taking some cuttings, but they didn't thrive. However the old plant is determined to "pass on its genes", and has obligingly produced a whole load of tiny babies. If you look carefully you can see some of them at the bottom of this picture.

The parent Lavender with a couple of tiny babies visible

These are some of the tiny seedlings which I have extracted and potted up in 3" pots

Tiny Lavender seedlings

And this is one that I found much earlier in the year, growing in the shingle beneath that same pot. You can see that it has grown into a strong little plant which will probably be big enough to flower next year.

A thriving Lavender seedling

Here are some more examples. This shot has four plant type visible -- Golden Feverfew, Forget-Me-Not, Euphorbia, and Primrose -- though the latter two are not true "volunteers" because I did actually plant them! The Euphorbia spreads by means of underground roots or rhizomes, in much the same way as Mint. Little shoots pop up all over the place.

Golden Feverfew (centre) and Forget-Me-Not (right)

I'll probably not adopt the Ferverfew or Forget-Me-Not, because they are types that do tend to take over the whole garden if you let them, but the point is I could if I wanted to.

This Hypericum is a true volunteer. Still small, but has potential.


At the front in this photo is a Cotoneaster, and behind it is a Heuchera, lurking under the big Bay tree.

Cotoneaster (front) and Heuchera (rear)

This is Pulmonaria (Lung-wort -- so called because its foliage is supposed to resemble the tissue of a lung.... yuk!) Another true volunteer, because I definitely didn't plant any of these, but welcome nontheless, because it has very attractive blue and pink flowers in the Spring, usually well before anything much else is in flower.


What about this good-looking specimen? It's a Sunflower, growing in a pot of Blueberries. I think this one originates in the bird food I put out for the finches (which are exceptionally partial to sunflower kernels).


Don't let's forget "Son-of-Wilma". This is a tomato plant of the variety Wilma, which I have raised from a tiny seedling I found in amongst the carrots and parsnips. Probably a seed that spent the Winter in my home-made compost... Will it manage to produce some fruit before the cold weather overtakes it???


Other plants I have adopted this year include Endives and Lettuces -- both self-seeded from last year's crop -- but I can't show you these because we have eaten them!

So, go on then, get out there in your garden and see what you can find!


  1. Love your blog. Many thanks for your helpful advice and inspiration. How do you control garden weeds? Any experience with mulching?

  2. These are some great pictures. I planted a lot of seedlings this spring and now trying to figure out what's what.


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