SURPRISE PACKETS IN THE GARDEN
THESE POPUPS DO IT ALL ON THEIR OWN
One of the most satisfying aspects of what we gardeners do is observing how a garden evolves over the time we are its caretaker.
It’s intriguing to watch, say, flowering annuals, complete their full life cycles within the space of maybe eight weeks, with some lasting through to around 12 months.
It’s fascinating to observe the ebb and flow of life energy, in the forms of foliage, flower and fruit, of the many deciduous plants we may be fortunate to be able to grow in our region.
It’s pleasing to purchase a new addition for the garden, select a suitable position, plant it, and watch it grow to fill that spot over maybe many years, sometimes taking a lifetime to reach its full potential.
As our gardens evolve, there’s a fair chance that we, too, will change our ideas and choices with them.
For me, my greatest change was realising that Australian native plants, for many years the only plants I wanted to grow, were only part of a massive worldwide plant palette from which I could choose for my garden.
Another change for me was the way I dealt with what I call “popup” plants, those with the propensity to self-seed and appear in places for which they weren’t intended when first planted.
As a novice gardener, I would curse the sheer audacity of these plants to do what I didn’t want, and remove them as soon as they germinated.
Over time, my attitude softened, and I came to the realisation that these plants were simply doing what came naturally, adding an air of excited anticipation to each season in which they would be expected to appear.
Nowadays, I celebrate the appearance of popup plants in a garden, and would like to share their spontaneity and beauty in today’s article.
One of my earliest shady spot plantings was Viola labradorica, a Northern American species, known there as the wood violet or alpine dog violet.
Quite attractive when not in flower, due to its dark purple new growth, it spreads slowly by underground rhizomes, and a little faster via self-seeding.
The main attraction is the profuse display of small purple violet flowers from spring right through to autumn.
A single plant of this little beauty has now spread to many parts of my garden, as well as some long term potted plants.
It’s fairly easy to control, so I wouldn’t class it as weedy.
Of course, if we’re mentioning violas, then it would be remiss not to mention Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolour), sometimes known as heartsease.
These little annuals can even jump up in your lawns.
While on the subject of popup flowering annuals, a classic has to be Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), well-known for its ability to germinate in the smallest crack in a path, opening in a rock wall, or tiny space in a garden bed.
Once you’ve grown Alyssum in your garden, you’ll have it for years to come.
The same can be said for marigolds, their cheery gold, orange and yellow blooms with us for many years after an initial planting.
Other welcome popups include Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica), Chrysanthemum paludosum, and annual Candytuft ‘Iceberg’ (Iberis amara), a single plant producing up to 50 new offspring each season.
A beauty I found growing alongside a railway track to the west of Toowoomba, Habranthus robustus, or the pink storm lily, is a bulbous plant that produces pink blooms from spring to autumn, usually just after decent rainfall.
While the bulbs will continue to grow each year, the flowers, if pollinated, will produce copious fertile seed which germinate easily in moist soil.
The fact that these plants had colonised next to a railway line proves their toughness in our region, but they are easily controlled without becoming weedy.
They’re best where they can get sun for at least half a day.
Some perennial plants are quite prolific at self-sowing in the right conditions.
They include lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), Seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus – this can become a little weedy), African or wild iris (Dietes iridoides and D. bicolour), Agapanthus, and Cape daisy (Osteospermum).
Self-seeding vegies and herbs are the cheapest way to produce food in your patch (free, actually).
A requirement for these plants to self-seed, however, is that the gardener must resist the urge to cut off the emerging flower heads or remove the plant altogether.
Some vegies that will produce viable seeds, if allowed to, are lettuce, chives, rocket and some carrot varieties.
Herbs that love to flower and seed are basil, coriander, borage and parsley.
If you decide to allow some of your vegies to self-seed, the best idea is to let only the strongest plants go to seed, which will improve the chances of better quality plants germinating.
Be aware that you may not see new plants appearing until the following growth season, for example, a plant that grows in spring may not germinate until late winter the following year.
One final point to consider: many new varieties of vegetables are hybrids, meaning that if they do happen to produce viable seed, the resulting offspring may be quite variable in growth, flowering and/or fruiting compared to the original plant.
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