One gardener’s spectabilis is another’s horribilis. When flowering plants make viable seeds that spread around the garden to germinate next year, you may think it’s a blessing or a curse.
Remember that primary school unit about how seeds travel? I have examples of all the strategies in my garden this month, from burrs to wind-catching silky parachutes to fruits that co-opt birds to carry the seed to new locations. We plant for flowers, but the plants’ goal is to pass on their genes to another generation.
Usually I like having the surprise of little seedlings popping up here and there in spring. This is the time of year when I have to decide who shall live and who shall die (or at least reproduce)--which seedheads to leave alone and which to clip out before they can drop their seeds.
Some of my favorite purchases have turned out to be self-seeders, especially white bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’). Spectabilis translates as “worth looking at,” and that perfectly describes the glowing heart-shaped flowers when they bloom in my May garden.
|White bleeding heart--worth looking at|
Other enthusiastic self-seeders I enjoy include columbine (various species of Aquilegia), dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius), and forget-me-not (several species of Myosotis). When these sprout in unexpected locations, I let some grow, pull some out, move others to better spots, and pot a few to give away.
|Columbines sometimes cross-breed, changing flower colors in the offspring, but this dark purple has stayed true.|
Then there’s tall verbena, Verbena bonariensis, whose seedlings are legion in my vegetable beds. This odd South American self-seeder sends up a single 3- to 4-foot stem with a small lilac purple compound flower at the top. It’s a prolific producer of seeds considered invasive in the South, but not in Massachusetts yet. I bought some from a mail order nursery ten years ago, and new volunteers sprout every year.
I keep some of the seedlings because migrating monarch butterflies used to touch down on the flowers to refuel. I haven’t seen the monarchs for a couple of years, perhaps because their population has declined drastically due to habitat loss and the use of herbicides that eradicate the milkweed their caterpillars need for food.
|Instead of monarchs, nonnative cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) are visiting the tall verbena this year.|
|Seeds of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) getting ready to float on silky floss|