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Hurray for Happenstance
by Carla Allen
November 10, 1999

There's something to be said for planning your garden carefully, plotting out locations for particular groups of plants and desirable color schemes. But I have to admit this year I seem to have a bumper crop of attractive self sown combinations on the property.

The most dramatic group has taken over a garden that was designated as a bed for ground-covering miniature roses. The roses are still there but are now quite discreet amongst self-sown perennial white musk mallow. A wild mullein with soft flannel leaves towers seven feet up from the shining white flower clusters. I have compared the sight with that of a spaceship blasting off. I could have pulled all of this out earlier in the season...but I wanted to save the mullein so the children could feel it during school tours and I knew I'd appreciate the translucent white blooms of the mallow during July and August. The mallow and the mullein - a favorite by far. Second prize will probably go to an up and comer. For awhile I was quite concerned about hundreds of little "weeds" that were popping up all around the red impatiens I had planted beneath some birch trees. I had a sneaking suspicion they might be my old favorite - Johnny-Jump-ups, but the distribution seemed far too even throughout the bed and besides, they were growing on top of the bark mulch we had laid. I let them grow on, thinking if they were weeds they would be a little easier to pull once they are bigger. After a few weeks had gone by however, I noticed distinctive wavy edges on the developing third leaves. It will probably be September by the time they bloom, but combined with red impatiens these little purple pansies will have proven once again their flair for picking the perfect spot.

Earlier this spring I noticed a foxglove had seeded itself at the base of the arbor entrance to the herb garden. Nestled up against the pole it was easy to tie and support and for close to six weeks now its main bloom, along with side-shoots, has greeted many visitors on their way to see the herbs. Ambrosia (Chenopodium) is also known by the name of Jerusalem oak and feather geranium. Its small fine seed seems to find its way into the strangest places. It is a hardy annual that grows 2 feet tall and develops feathery lime green plumes. The fragrance is nostalgic for many, being somewhat spicy. How fitting that several of these plants should find their way into a planter in which I had planted another fragrant herb - rosemary. As the ambrosia grows taller I've turned the pot around so that the ambrosia provides a spicy backdrop to the rosemary, now beginning to tumble over the front edge. There are hundreds of other plants which self sow happily. Oftentimes if left alone they can fill empty spaces and create wonderful combinations with each other or other plants which you have placed. Forget-me-nots, english daisies, snapdragons, calendula (pot marigold), fennel, caraway, even dill are just a few of the flowers and herbs you can expect to see back again in a different spot once you've introduced them onto your property.

One of my more unusual experiences with a self-sown plant happened several years ago. In early spring I noticed a sunflower seedling poking its head from the edge of the vegetable garden. It had probably arrived with a little help from a clumsy bird. As the summer progressed I fertilized and staked it and was very pleased with its early bloom. So early in fact I was able to enter it in the exhibition. The judge thought it a fair sized flower as well and awarded it first place. One should never underestimate the possibilities of self sown seedlings.

Carla Allen and her husband David own South Cove Nursery near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Carla writes The Vine for the local weekly and is the editor of East Coast Gardener distributed throughout the Maritimes. E-mail:

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