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The Whitehurst Diaries: The Sturdy Volunteers
Click on headline for complete diary entry with photo(s)
By Sharon Whitehurst
Jim didn't till the two lower strips of the side garden this spring. Since we are (hopefully) in transit to another property a few miles away, our main gardening efforts have been concentrated there.
I wasn't surprised to see sunflowers emerging in the neglected strips with the advent of warmer weather. The surprise has been at how quickly they reached blooming status. Scrolling through photos from 2013, I find the first sunflower in bloom on July 7.
The scent of a pollen-laden sunflower has been familiar since childhood when my Grampa Mac planted a row at the bottom of the garden each year.
Volunteer plants whether flowers or vegetable intrigue me. Each summer finds a few tomato plants which have popped up, usually after the garden has been rototilled. In my Vermont garden I allowed any of those which were growing in a likely area to continue, sometimes transplanting a particularly promising specimen to a safer spot.
Invariably the tomato plants have caught up to their cosseted greenhouse companions and in spite of many being hybrid varieties, the fruit produced has been indistinguishable from those deliberately cultivated.
This year's example is the Roma variety, the tiny tomatoes already showing their distinctive oval shape.
I sowed pink cosmos in 2010 (the first year of our Kentucky gardens) and they made a rather feeble showing alongside an exuberance of zinnias. I collected seed and in following years was rewarded with swaths of dainty billowing foliage and pale blooms dancing along a row near the zinnias. This year a few are growing stoutly among the sunflowers in the grassy uncut lower strip--uncut due to my 'spare the flowers' protest.
I set out perhaps three cleome seedlings last year--tenderly cosseted to transplanting size in small pots on the front porch. The first bloom opened on July 5. I was regretting that I hadn't time to start plants this year when I discovered that 'Rose Queen' had done the job for me and perpetuated her kind all around the big rock in the front yard.
Mint - what can one say! Although I spent an hour one afternoon as summer waned ripping out yards of mint roots, it has returned, undaunted, to clamber around the Red Knock-Out roses.
My beautiful trailing rosemary was a casualty of a cold February night when I forgot to trundle the plants inside from the front porch. Three other varieties survived with only a touch of frostbite browning the needles. The prostrate rosemary had been covered for months in tiny blue flowers. In chilly earliest springtime I was astonished to find a colony of tiny plantlets surrounding the dead trunk of the mother plant. I lost a few in the transplanting process, but have nearly two dozen ready to pot up individually.
It could be argued that I don't need that many rosemarys, however I'm determined to keep enough to learn if they grow true to form or offer interesting mutations.
In 2012 I planted a nursery grown foxglove. Knowing it to be a self-seeding biennial, I anticipated a crowd of seedlings would appear in 2013. Nary a one!
I abandoned that particular small garden behind the clothesline this spring, having found it too vulnerable to washing out in a hard rain. I removed the peonies early on, leaving only some clumps of seed-grown achillea which seems impervious to anything weather or climate may offer. A few poppies straggled out of the springtime mud and in admiring them I spotted half a dozen foxglove seedlings. I can only wonder if the severe cold of January prompted the seeds to germinate.
One by one I'm potting up the small plants. A friend in Wales shared photos of foxglove naturalized in great sweeps along the country lanes where she walks. I doubt I can establish a colony of foxgloves but I shall encourage any that are inclined to volunteer.
Nigella produced only a few wispy stems in 2010 but has since faithfully maintained a presence. The fat striped seed pods can be gathered and the seeds merely strewed on top of the soil. This year a second flowering has sprung from plants that Jim mowed in his persistent efforts to tidy the straggling edges of my gardens. A clump has established along with an errant poppy or two in the edge of the stony rubble behind the garage.
Johnny-jump-up (viola) has behaved predictably, bouncing about in the herb garden, crouching in the edges of the lawn, lurking under the lilies, fading to brown stems with the heat of summer, reappearing in the chilly days of autumn and earliest spring.
Lambs' ears (stachys byzantina) encroaches on less vigorous plants and must be restrained. Lemon balm and catnip rampage, assuring me that I will never be without their distinctive scents.
At our other property Jim resignedly turned a strip alongside the veg garden where I strewed the carefully saved and labeled seeds from last years gaudiest zinnias and the boldest colored of the 'dwarf' sunflowers.
Assisted by a stiff breeze I flung out poppy and cosmos seed with a profligate hand.
My gardens will never resemble the tidy well-planned arrangements that appear in magazines and the glossy pages of books detailing the work of revered English gardeners. I sow, weed, divide, gather seeds, transplant, grumbling at the resultant ache in aging back and knees, but unable to accept a season without flowers.
Chief among my delights are those plants, the sturdy volunteers, that surprise me with their cheerful reappearance--a reward far beyond the price of the original packet of seeds.
This story was posted on 2014-06-19 09:16:15
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