Monday, May 17, 2010

Self-sowing flowers

The hot-colored blossoms of California poppies are my first harbingers of summer. There is much to recommend these easy plants; I love the ferny foliage, the silken texture of the blossoms, and the long blooming season. Multiple sources write that they make good cut flowers, though I have never had much luck. I can't say I regret that, as the informal, nodding stems seem more at home in a casual garden border than stuffed in a vase.

I first sprinkled the seed in my front bed four years ago, rather naive about the "self-sowing" qualities described on the packet. Good thing I love these plants, for eradication would be a dismal project. The seed heads are bursting with tiny seeds, readily sown by wind and gravity all over my garden and beyond. I have noticed the seedlings popping up in sidewalk cracks halfway down the block. Even in desired locations, the seedlings come up very thickly, and must be thinned aggressively for a nice display. The one year I did not thin them out, thanks to the torpor of late pregnancy, I ended up with a dense mat of underperforming, leggy plants.

Self-sowing plants entice me with their care-free attitude. If one has anxiety about formal "garden design" and or feels self-conscious about plant placement, self-sowers are an easy out; just let the plants make the decisions. And, as Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd point out, the plants tend to pop up just where they belong, though one would have never chosen that site intentionally.

Of course, it is a fine line between self-sowing garden plant and weed. Feverfew is rampant in my garden. I'm unsure if it was purposefully planted by the former owner, or if it is just a weed that has drifted in from surrounding areas. I can't begrudge its presence, however. It grows in the areas -- the dry and the hardscrabble -- that would otherwise be visual wastelands. The seedlings are easy to pull out, but I will leave them where they are. I have never tried it out medicinally, and am content to welcome the daisy-like flowers and pleasant citrusy scent to my "wildflower" bouquets.

This is not to say I am at peace with all self-sowers. I could do with less dill popping up all over my herb garden and, even this early in the season, I am tired of pulling out chives from every corner of my yard. A responsible gardener would deadhead these plants before they scatter their seed all over the place. But in late summer, I am charmed by the seed heads, and prefer to pay the piper later. I must also admit that a few extra dill plants-- with their airy yellow heads -- will look nice among my cosmos. I would have never thought of that.

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