It’s not that I am a lazy gardener, as, if I had all the time in the world, I would spend most of the daylight hours playing in my garden. The reality is that like many others I am a time poor gardener, a working mother of five teenagers and other stuff in my life demands attention. So, if I can set up my garden to think for itself and do its own thing, that would be perfect. One way to do that is to create a ‘low maintenance’ garden however typically (in my very biased opinion) these can look boring, with little colour and interest.
I love flowers and colour, and so do the bees and other beneficial insects. In years gone by, when I had more time, I would plant annual flowers each year and love their show however water and time restrictions have reduced this habit. More recently I have become more passionate about self-seeding annuals which give a brilliant show and unlike petunias and impatiens, I only have to plant them once and they’ll come back every year for free! They do require some managing, and if they do choose to grow where I don’t want them, I can simply transplant them to where it is more appropriate.
In my garden at Sophie’s Patch one of my favourites is an unusual plant called honeywort or blue shrimp plant (Cerinthe major). It has striking purple flowers which look effective against its grey-blue foliage. It grows to between 50 and 90cm high and flowers for many months in spring and summer.
Californian poppies (Escholtzia) are another annual that freely sets seed year after year. They come in a range of colours, from whites, reds, pinks, oranges, however in my garden I have the vibrant bright orange ones. Being from California they thrive in our love sunny dry conditions.
Other annuals that I have had self-seeding include Alyssum, heartsease or Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor) and seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus). In the vegie patch, yellow and orange Calendulas, dwarf nasturtiums (such as the variety called ‘Alaska’), edible Chrysanthemem (Chop suey greens) and blue flowered borage seed around, which is great as they are magnets for beneficial insects including bees. Their edible blooms look stunning as a garnish or in a salad, and the nasturtium leaves give a wonderful peppery taste to a salad. I also allow many of my vegetables to self-seed and call them my volunteer vegies. Varieties like the loose-leaf lettuces, kales, mustards and rocket all self-seed around, germinating when the time is right.
When these annuals finish flowering I wait till they are full of seed and then simply pull out the plant and either shake it around where I want it to grow in the future or even just throw the dead plant down on the ground in that area. Usually they will naturally self-seed where they are growing and I can choose where they stay or go. I have a number which want to grow in my garden paths so that is where I simply pull them out. Obviously, as with any self-seeding plants, we need to be environmentally responsible and make sure they do not ‘jump the fence’ and escape our gardens to become environmental weeds.
If you want to establish some of these hardy, self-seeding annuals in your patch, you have two options, either plant seedlings and let them go to seed, or simply scatter seed on bare ground around the garden in autumn and winter. Always sow seed on ground that isn’t covered by mulch, as mulch will inhibit both seed germination and plant establishment. Once the seedlings are up and growing well then you can carefully mulch in between.