Sunday, October 4, 2015

Randomize, Randomize, Randomize: The Best Self-Seeders to Surprise and Delight

Elephant Head Amaranth. Photo by Lyle Steele Custom Gardens.

Ok. Lady Bird Johnson said “Beautify, Beautify, Beautify” but you get the point. 

If you’re too young to know who the other LBJ is here's a link to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin, Texas:

It’s well worth a few minutes of your time to learn about the legacy of one of our country’s great environmentalists.  She also wore great hats.  Now there’s a lost art. The center sells seeds.  Purchasing from them will get you started with wildflowers and will also help further their mission of restoring wildflower populations throughout the country. Wildflowers are natural self-seeders generally.
Adding self-seeders to the garden is a great way to  naturally vary the look and feel of your garden from year to year.  Some plants have earned their real estate and add a sense of permanence and continuity.  They are the backbone of the garden.

But the same garden year after year is, well, a bit boring.  Self-seeders solve that problem.  They add an element of caprice that cannot be planned no matter how many hours you spend making lists and reading Spontaneity A to Z.  Nature is smart so let her have a little fun. Plant a few self-seeders and let them seed.  In the spring edit them.  Leave one of this here and two of that there.  The result will surprise and delight you.  Everyone will be amazed.  And you can take all the credit.  No one need know.  Every gardener deserves his little secrets. .  (Don’t tell anyone but those beautiful blue poppies in my garden come right out of the spice rack.  They’re just Hungarian bread poppies. You can buy a ginormous containers of them from the spice booth at the street fair for $2.00.)


Amaranth: Amaranthus in Variety
amaranth blossom by HardyPlants
Tall, elegant and available in a range of maroons, ambers and golds, these stately plants add height and drama wherever they sprout.  A few plants go a long way so leave just a sampling.   The small seeds are nutritious and a staple grain going back to the Aztecs.  Pick a color you like or just throw caution to the wind and sow some seeds from the health food store.  Amaranth will bring lots of birds to the garden so be prepared to share some seeds.  They know they’re good too.  The seedlings make a good pot green so nothing goes to waste.

California Poppy:  Eschscholzia Californica

California poppies at Antelope Valley
  Reserve.  Photo by Vsion (2003).

A field of California poppy blooming in shades of orange and gold is a spectacular site.  Plant them in a dry area with good drainage since they don't care much for excess water.  And they don't favor transplanting either so try to enjoy them where nature put them.  These beauties have also been hybridized to produce a range of colors in pinks, peaches and red so you don't have to go pure native if yellows and oranges don't fit your color scheme.

Corncockle:  Agostemma Githago
Agostemma githago 
A plant of simple beauty long remembered as a field “weed” growing among the neatly perfect rows of corn. The corn doesn’t seem to mind having such a willowy and graceful neighbor and the plants in your garden won’t mind either.   And it’s easy, easy, easy.     

Thymophylla tenuiloba by Miwasatoshi

Dahlberg Daisy: Thymophylla Tenuiloba
Short stature with tiny daisies and lemon scented mossy foliage make the Dahlberg daisy an ideal filler for the front of beds.   Cut it back late in the season for a second flush of blossom but leave the dried seedheads in situ to get a good crop next year.   If you have extra, and you will, seed it in other areas of the garden in need of a graceful filler.

Langsdorff Tobacco:  Nicotiana Langsdorffi

Nicotiana Langsdorffi
Yes, it’s a real tobacco, originally from Chile, but much shorter than commercial tobacco so it won't overwhelm the garden. You can use it to roll your own but a better use is to allow it to grace the garden with its unique pale green tubular flower bells.   The soft foliage is variegated so select seedlings with the most striking contrasts for extra effect.  Deadheading the old flowers and cutting it back a will keep blossoms coming all summer long.

Nigella: Smithsoniangardens7
by Queerbubbles.

Nigella: Nigella in Variety

Those tasty smoky seeds on that $7 loaf of artisanal bread from Whole Paycheck is nigella.   Height can vary in this family from twelve inches to two feet so pick a variety that fits your space.  The tall nigela is a gorgeous dark blue, a color in short supply in the summer garden.  The shorter varieties tend to run pale blue, white and pink.  Let the balloon-like seedheads dry on the plants so they can drop seed for next year.  And eat a few too.

Jewels of Opar: Talinum Paniculatum
Talinum Paniculatum by Hardyplants
Finally a plant named after the Adventures of Tarzan.  Why did that take so long? My guess is crocodiles. With slightly fleshy chartreuse paddle-shaped leave and very delicate pink blossoms atop tall thin stems talinum is a true show stopper.   But the best is yet to come.  The “jewels” are the glossy small red seeds that set after the blossoms fade.  They sit graciously atop the stems in sprays like little rubies. 

Buenos Aires Verbena: Verbena Bonariensis
Verbena Bonariensis by Frank Wouters

Verbena on a stick is the common name for this Argentine native.  Lavender to purple florets sit atop tall thin stems that move gently in the breeze. Plant in an area with good air circulation and sunshine since the plant is prone to mildew in humid areas.  Apparently our Aires are not quite as Buenos.  Ordinary garden fungicide will take care of it if the problem becomes too unsightly.

Copyright 2015 Lyle Steele Custom Gardens. All Rights Reserved.  For copyright permission please write to   Lyle Steele Custom Gardens is a design and landscape firm based on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC.

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