Saturday 6 August 2016

Enrolling some volunteers

"Volunteer" is the name I give to a plant that just appears in the garden of its own accord, without being deliberately sown or planted. Sometimes it is imported by birds, and other times it's just natural self-seeding by a mature plant.

One of the plants most useful for adding height in a garden is Verbena Bonariensis, which grows to about six feet tall.  I have some in a big pot on the patio. Just recently I noticed a few little seedlings of it coming up in the cracks between the paving-stones. I carefully eased them out and potted them up in 4-inch pots of moist compost, for which they were seemingly grateful because they have started to grow rapidly.

I know I will probably live to regret this, but at present I would dearly love to have a big drift of that Verbena, swaying in the breeze! People tell me it self-seeds very profusely, so in a year or two I'll probably be ripping up its seedlings and discarding them. For now though, I'm nurturing them.

In a small garden like mine, Verbena Bonariensis can actually look too tall, so this year I experimented with pinching-out the stems when they reached about four feet, to encourage the formation of side-shoots. I seems to have worked quite well, and even better it means that I have been able to use the trimmed-off parts as cuttings to establish more new plants.

Verbena Bonariensis cuttings re-sprouting

I have also just potted-up a few self-seeded Thyme plants. Very tiny ones, but I'm sure they will grow quickly now that I have given them "luxury homes of their own".

I'm particularly glad that the Thyme has produced these seedlings, because I find it difficult to maintain a good supply of this herb. In my garden it suffers a lot from what I interpret as Capsid Bug damage. The upper surfaces of the leaves get nibbled away, leaving them looking scarred and grey-coloured instead of a healthy green - particularly unattractive in a culinary ingredient. The plant often dies as a result.


  1. Good tip about the pinching out, my verbenas are very tall and the stems are not things of great beauty! Will try and control them a bit next year.

  2. I wish my thyme had self sown - as it usually does. I need to sow some more as my old plants have now gone.
    I like my Verbena bonariensis to grow high at the front of a border as a curtain plant.
    We ate volunteer potatoes last night but you might not approve.

  3. Volunteer plants...that's a nice name. Not sure I can apply the term to me "Volunteer" weeds that self seed :)

    I always have plenty of volunteer beans, tomatoes and best of all chard, beetroot and parsnip but I've never fully appreciated what the term was meant when people used it. Heard it plenty of times but hadn't given it any thought before.

    I often pot up volunteers. Just today we found 3 or 4 raspberries that had grown from if we need more considering how they multiple by root :)

  4. Coincidentally I have sown some fresh thyme this year from seed. Our old plant has hung on for years. Horrified to read of your bug attack. I thought they were as tough as old boots. Volunteers is a term I only find myself using for those random potatoes that crop up right in the middle of seed beds. Proof that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. Self seeded plants = "free"" plants!

  5. I am not familiar with verbena that tall. But I love plants that self seed and can be increased from cuttings. We had a wonderful melon from a volunteer.

  6. At least you know where your volunteer plants have come from Mark, last year we had two new flower plants appear, this year we have had three so far I have not identified them, I suspect they have either been dropped by birds or come in a seeds of various plants I've bought in pots.

  7. I hope my Verbena Bonariensis seeds itself. I'd actually like that but haven't seen any sign of it happening yet.


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