Volunteers is a term I've only started using recently, after both my friends Della and Diane referred to their own garden volunteers. I've blogged previously about how they shared many of their plants with me to help fill in my bare beds. In their beautiful gardens, the seedlings that pop up in paths and beds away from the mother plants are the volunteers. Others may call them weeds or scourge, but I like the friendlier term. In almost every case the errant plants have to go, either to the compost pile or to a fellow gardener.
I like volunteers in my garden. In a challenging gardening region like Colorado's Front Range, getting plants to establish can be difficult. One of my basic garden philosophies is to give support to the plants that persevere and establish themselves. I'll plant different plants of different varieties in a bed and wait to see what happens. Often they all do well because I've researched the specific plant requirements before planting, but occasionally one or two plants won't do as well while one or two do very well. When the successful plants propagate by seed or runner, or rhysome, I'll let many of the seedlings remain to help expand the bed. I'll pot up others to transplant or share with gardener friends. The volunteers quickly find a place in my garden or in someone else's garden.
A special surprise is when a volunteer pops up completely unexpectedly. When I planted some Russian sage from Diane, a little Virginia creeper began growing from the soil. The creeper is now residing under a large Ponderosa pine in my front drive. A shovelful of knautia graciously produced an abundance of lamb's ear, which I quickly pulled up so it wouldn't overpower the other young plants. My most welcome guest this year is a hollyhock that grew from the base of penstemons. I don't have any other hollyhocks and will save the seeds and try to grow a whole section of the towering plants next year.
|My new hollyhocks|
It's not always easy to identify what the volunteer is while it's young. Patience and time may be required in allowing growth and flowering to fully appreciate an unknown plant. One year I had a vining plant sprout in my vegetable garden near the cucumbers. It had leaves like a melon so I let it grow. It rewarded me with the most delicious cantaloupe I've ever eaten. I determined a wayward seed from my compost pile chose that garden spot to call home.
My front garden is almost exclusively populated with transplanted volunteers. I have numerous young Apache plume volunteers from my previous xeriscape garden. Some of Della's cotoneaster has a new home and will eventually provide new volunteers. Cornflower and Russian sage occupy a large area. Not only have I saved hundreds of dollars by planting shared seedlings from other gardens, but I've also ensured greater success by using plants I already know will do well.
Like human volunteers, these plants give themselves at no cost. Also like humans, you never really know what kind of garden assistance you'll get until it happens. The weather is changing and most of my perennials are beginning the first phase of dormancy. As the garden fades, I'm already looking forward to the spring and the new green growth and I'll be ready for anything the volunteers provide.