I’ve been gardening just about all my adult life. Each year I get a little better at it. And in addition to what I’ve learned about growing things, I’ve discovered that some things will grow in my yard in spite of me, not because of me. Over the years I’ve had a number of “volunteers” spring up in my yard, plants that just decided they wanted to grow here (with a little help from the birds and the wind).
My black raspberry patch started out as a tangle of pickers that my husband and I battled for years. They seemed to especially like growing right next to the driveway. One year I finally decided to give in and let them grow there. We pulled up all the plants that weren’t already growing next to the driveway and enclosed the driveway patch with some poles at each end and guide wires on the sides. Every year I harvest enough black raspberries to make jam, syrup, and more.
Now we’re battling some dewberries that want to take over where the grapes I planted are growing. I’m not going to let them do that, and keep pulling them out every year. This year they actually bore fruit, and now I’m having second thoughts about eradicating them, so now my challenge is to find a spot where they can grow without disturbing anything else.
Irony in the compost crop
Many a volunteer has made an appearance in our compost pile. Last year a Baby Pam pumpkin plant sprouted from a pumpkin I had thrown onto the pile the previous Fall. I let it grow, and it gave me almost a dozen small pumpkins, about 1 to 2 pounds in size, before season’s end.
The Baby Pam pumpkin that took over the 2010 compost pile.
This year there are some great-looking potato plants growing in the compost, along with two tomato plants, a wild amaranth, and a couple of squash.
Here’s the irony in that compost crop:
This year I planted 60 potato plants in the garden—way more than I’ve ever grown and way more than I should have planted. Then I discovered potatoes springing up in last year’s patch, apparently sprouting from potatoes I missed during last Fall’s harvest. I transplanted 15 of them to this year’s potato patch, and pulled up the rest of the sprouts because I decided 75 potato plants were more than enough. Even so, there are still potatoes springing up in the old patch, and one is growing in a nearby patch of strawberries that escaped from their raised bed. And now they’re even in the compost pile.
And tomatoes? This year my early seed-starting efforts were a flop, or so I thought, so I broke down and bought two six-packs of tomato seedlings from the local garden center. Then a friend gave me four plants that had been started in February and had flowers on them in May. And, lo and behold, some of the seeds I had started sprouted. I planted a total of 22 tomatoes in the garden and still had eight left over. I potted the remaining ones to sell at a yard sale. They didn’t sell and are now languishing in 4-inch pots. And I have two healthy-looking tomato plants growing among the potatoes in my compost pile, with no help from me at all.
As for the squash growing in the compost pile, I wanted to plant squash this year, but had no room left in the garden. Didn’t think of the compost pile.
Unidentified (so far) squash in the 2011 compost pile.
More by accident than on purpose
This year I have more parsley growing in my yard by accident than what I planted on purpose. In late winter I planted some parsley seeds indoors. One came up and didn’t grow taller than half an inch before I finally transplanted it to let it try its luck in the garden. Reluctantly, I bought two six-packs of parsley at the garden center. Then I discovered several little parsley plants growing in one of my asparagus beds, and while I was out tending the chickens one day, I saw that some had sprouted just outside their run.
And speaking of parsley—ever heard of parsley root? There are several parsley root plants that have sprouted near my rock garden. How it got there, I’ll never know—I’ve never grown it on purpose.
On beyond veggies
It turns out that vegetables aren’t the only kind of volunteers that have made an appearance here. Five years ago a hollyhock rose from the middle of my vegetable garden. I have never in my life planted hollyhocks anywhere, so, like the parsley root, this was a true interloper. I welcomed its arrival, and felt that its presence was a reminder to me that there are other plants worthy of my attention besides vegetables—and that sometimes you have to take a break from work and have a little fun. Although it looked out of place there between the asparagus and tomatoes, I let it grow. It grew to be more than six feet tall and was covered with beautiful, bright pink flowers. By the end of the summer, the flowers had faded and spilled their seeds onto the ground, leaving tiny hollyhock babies sprouting nearby. I dug up three and planted them behind my garden greenhouse shed. This year there are at least six—not three—healthy-looking hollyhocks growing behind the garden shed—all tall, majestic, and covered with deep pink flowers. And there are hollyhock seedlings springing up all over the place.
A couple of weeks ago I discovered several clumps of seedlings growing in my rock and herb gardens. They looked like something, but I couldn’t figure out what. The seed shell I saw stuck to one of the tiny leaves looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then I realized that the seedlings were sunflowers, courtesy of the birds who fed on the black-oil sunflower seeds in our feeders last winter. I transplanted about a dozen of them, let some of them grow where they were, and pulled out a fistful.
Volunteer sunflower seedlings 2011.
Early this spring as I surveyed my garden to decide what to grow where, I discovered what looked like a chamomile plant growing randomly in the middle of the garden where some of last year’s forgotten garlic was sprouting. I moved the plant, with its delicate, lacy foliage, to my rock garden, where it has thrived so far. Turns out it’s not chamomile—it doesn’t have the distinctive chamomile scent, although it looks for all the world like one. Just the same, it looks lovely in the garden.
I’ve been thinking that if time, the weather, and my energy allow, I’d like to start a medicinal herb garden this summer. In doing some reading on which plants might be useful, I realized that the beginnings of a medicinal garden are already way ahead of me. One plant—burdock—has already volunteered here, right next to the barn. The plant, which blooms biennially, is starting to set flower buds. It’s apparently been here for awhile, waiting for me to catch on.