In Plantiful: Start Small, Grow Big with 150 Plants That Spread, Self-Sow, and Overwinter, Kristin Green wants to teach you what it took me years to learn: by relaxing my hold on the garden and using self-sowing plants to fill in the gaps, I could enjoy the garden more and work less. Kristin advocates using the plants that others regard as “too much work” because they self-sow or spread or need to be wintered over. She points out,
As long as you are paying even minimal attention to your garden and the passage of the seasons, plants that self-sow and spread from the roots won’t be able to take over, and those that would die without refuge from winter’s worst can be kept alive for years instead.
Self-sowers and spreaders fill the gaps between established perennials and shrubs in my garden. They take up space that would otherwise be occupied by weeds, and they lend an unstudied air to the garden. As Kristin explains, because these plants are so inexpensive (a packet of seed the first year, and after that, they just show up), it frees you up to be more spontaneous in your garden’s design–editing and moving plants around in response to their growth and change.
It can be scary to loosen your sense of control, because these are the plants that know how to propagate themselves. They are just this side of being weeds, and you have to get used to pulling them up like weeds (except we call it editing, not weeding) if you find plants are too crowded or are escaping their boundaries. But it can also be exhilarating, allowing yourself to loosen up and experiment instead of coloring inside the lines of your carefully drawn up garden plan.
Kristin introduces you to many propagation techniques that enable cold climate gardeners to have a more plentiful garden. We can grow more unusual plants when we grow them from seed, we can have more of the plants we love by rooting cuttings, and we can introduce more tropical plants inexpensively by wintering them over from year to year. Better yet, Kristin’s book is a treat to read, with a frank and playful style that makes you feel like you’re learning a friend’s best gardening secrets.
If you regard gardening as an artistic endeavor and want to broaden your palette and strengthen your skills, you need this book. If you want to be thrifty and resourceful in the garden, you need this book. At the end of this post, I’ll be giving away one copy, but right now I want to show you some of the ways I use self-sowers in my own garden.
Self Sowers In My Garden
FeverfewFeverfew daisies have a nice airy feel. They self sow rather moderately and don’t take up much space. There is also a double feverfew whose flowers look almost like pom-poms, and a golden feverfew whose foliage glows but seems harder for me to keep going.
Forget-Me-NotsIs there anyone who can resist the true blue of forget-me-nots? Yes. Those who prefer their garden to look neat at all times. These plants have been pulled since the photo was taken, since most of their bloom is over and the earliest flowers on each stem have set seed. If I was really smart, I would have thinned the plants when they were still seedlings, but I didn’t get around to it and the world didn’t end. It just got a little messier. Kristin talks about thinning in her book.
Johnny-jump-up, rose campion, love-in-a-mist, poppyJohnny-jump-ups are especially good for cold climates because they love cool temps, blooming early in spring and continuing pretty much all summer long, growing taller and depending on the support of other plants, as long as it doesn’t get too hot. Rose campion is a biennial with furry leaves and typically magenta flowers, less commonly white or white with a pink eye. Love-in-a-mist adds another note of blue and an airy texture. It’s another annual that prefers cool climates. Opium poppies can be quite dramatic, especially if thinned as seedlings, and can be deadheaded to extend their bloom. These plants will fill in the gap left by the dying colchicum foliage.
FoxglovesFoxgloves are another biennial, blooming the second year and then dying. As long as the first year rosettes are covered with snow they are fine, but I have lost plants in an open winter or a nasty mud season with violent swings in temperature.
PetuniasThese petunia seedlings showed up underneath windowboxes in the front, after we had gotten rid of some overgrown foundation shrubs. It helps to be observant and have a good visual memory in order to take advantage of such serendipity. Most people wouldn’t be interested in self-sown petunias because they won’t come true, but I enjoy being surprised.
Garden Heliotrope, SundropsBoth of these plants spread by stolons as well as seeds, so they can spread quite a bit. Fortunately, they are both pretty easy to pull out. Garden heliotrope is fragrant and blooms with the later peonies, making a nice filler for a peony bouquet. Sundrops can tolerate a wide range of conditions, so you might want to consider them for a problem area.
LupinesOne clump of lupines was growing in the Slope Garden when we moved in. As I have been weeding I have found seedlings which I allowed to grow, and now I have several sizable clumps. Lupines, like the petunias, do not come true from seed, but gradually revert to these purple hues, which I find blend in better with the rest of the bed.
If I hadn’t availed myself of these self-sowers, my gardens wouldn’t look nearly as full and lush as they do. I’m looking forward to trying more of the 150 plants that Kristin describes in her book.
Kristin Green can help you grow a Plantiful garden. Comment below and tell us your favorite self-sowers, or why you don’t like self-sowers in your garden. Or just mention that your interested in winning a copy. One commenter will be chosen at random to receive a free copy of Plantiful. Winner must provide a valid email address in the comment form. Giveaway will end at midnight Pacific Time on Sunday, July 20, 2014.
Timber Press provided a review copy to me and a copy to give away. Links to Amazon are affiliate links.