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Gardening Summer 2009
A series of articles on gardening in London Colney by Anne Kitchener

Among the many plants in my garden, perennials, shrubs, spring bulbs, there are those that regularly – or perhaps sometimes more annoyingly – seed themselves around the garden. These can be annuals, biennials or perennials and I can never be quite sure where they are going to appear or whether they will appear at all.
The plants that subsequently develop can be useful and used to fill up an otherwise blank space, produce unexpected and surprisingly effective combinations with their neighbours or be in entirely the wrong place. The trick is to recognise the seedlings and not to just dismiss them as an unwanted weed.

Once I have, hopefully correctly, identified a seedling and decided to keep it but change its position I have found that the best way to do this is whilst it is still quite small. I use a trowel to scoop up the seedling along with a clump of surrounding earth so as not to disturb the delicate roots and stems. The clump can then be easily transported to the new chosen space in the trowel.

The first self-sown plants of the year in my garden are primroses which appear in winter, often before the snowdrops, and last for many weeks as a background to the succession of spring bulbs giving a welcome splash of pale yellow against their bright green leaves. Next to appear is pulmonaria with their mixture of pink and blue flowers and occasional pure white flowered clumps. As the season moves into spring and the primroses and pulmonaria start to fade, self-seeded forget-me-nots and honesty put in their appearance. Forget-me-nots form a pretty blue carpet amongst tulips and other growing plants, covering the ground which later on will be filled by summer flowering perennials. Forget-me-nots will seed themselves in roughly the same places each year. Honesty spreads its seeds further and gradually moves around the garden from year to year so are more unpredictable but nevertheless are always welcome. Honesty’s season of interest is then extended over the summer by the formation of attractive seed heads which can be left in place all winter. As this plant is a biennial it will not return the following spring, but the seeds set will form a plant which will flower the spring after that.

There are many summer plants that seed themselves, among them sisyrinchum, lavender, lady’s mantle, ox eyed daisy, Mexican daisy and aquilegia. Sisyrinchum and lavender seed most readily in gravel which means they can quite easily be lifted and moved to fill an empty space. Lady’s mantle and Mexican daisies seed themselves especially well in crevasses between wall and paving, the mixture of pink and white daisies amongst acid green flowers of lady’s mantle I find particularly attractive. Ox eyed daisies seed themselves rather too readily all around their immediate area and to prevent over production I have found it is best to dead-head them before they have a chance to spread too many seeds.

There are many other flowers which will seed themselves around. The new plants formed can be left to grow where they are, weeded out and discarded or used to fill empty spaces around the garden. Self-seeding can be easily prevented by dead-heading after flowering and before there has been a chance to set seed. I have found that these flowers are invaluable and I enjoy waiting for where they will next appear and using them to fill up the garden.