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9 advantages of gardening with self-seeders

by Timber Press on September 2, 2015

in Design, Gardening

A former vegetable garden that today is used for cut flowers. Self-seeding plants, along with vegetable  plants that are grown for their flowers, play an important role here. To create such a garden requires a lot of knowledge  and many interventions. One gardener has the full-time job of cultivating a 1000 m² (¼ acre) plot – self-seeding gardening at its most intense. Image: Jürgen Becker

A former vegetable garden that today is used for cut flowers. Self-seeding plants, along with vegetable plants that are grown for their flowers, play an important role here. All images: Jürgen Becker

9 good reasons to consider Cultivating Chaos.

Traditional gardening has worked successfully for centuries, so why would you want to change the way you have always gardened?

This is a legitimate question, but times have changed and so have our ideas and desired outcomes for gardens. Here are some of the advantages of gardening with self-seeders:

1. Quick results. The extra time needed for germination and extensive production of seed is quickly repaid. Many plants flower in the first or second year and then become permanent residents in the garden.

2. A colourful and flower-rich garden. Many self-seeders are short-lived and are therefore oriented towards multiplying abundantly. In nature, this is most successfully done by the production of profuse, vividly coloured flowers and numerous seeds.

Self-seeding plants are an important feature at Great Dixter, East Sussex, England. Maintaining such a garden year in and year out requires highly qualified gardeners who have an understanding of the ethos behind its cultivation. Image: Jürgen Becker

Self-seeding plants are an important feature at Great Dixter, East Sussex, England.

A) Peucedanum verticillare (giant hog fennel or milk parsley) B) Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) C) Geranium pratense subsp. alba (white-flowered meadow cranesbill) D) Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’ (white columbine) E) Pastinaca sativa (parsnip) F) Hesperis matronalis (dame’s violet) G) Verbascum ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightning’(verbascum) H) Allium christophii (star of Persia) J) Allium afl atunense (ornamental onion) K) Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus (Byzantine gladiolus or Jacob’s ladder) L) Foeniculum vulgare ‘Atropurpureum’ (bronze fennel) M) Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) N) Dipsacus fullonum (Fuller’s teasel or wild teasel) O) Geranium pratense subsp. alba (white meadow cranesbill)

A) Peucedanum verticillare (giant hog fennel or milk parsley) B) Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) C) Geranium pratense subsp. alba (white-flowered meadow cranesbill) D) Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Alba’ (white columbine) E) Pastinaca sativa (parsnip) F) Hesperis matronalis (dame’s violet) G) Verbascum ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightning’(verbascum) H) Allium christophii (star of Persia) J) Allium afl atunense (ornamental onion) K) Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus (Byzantine gladiolus or Jacob’s ladder) L) Foeniculum vulgare ‘Atropurpureum’ (bronze fennel) M) Geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) N) Dipsacus fullonum (Fuller’s teasel or wild teasel) O) Geranium pratense subsp. alba (white meadow cranesbill)

3. You will tune into nature. When gardening with selfseeders, you become an intimate observer of a plant’s life cycle, watching it germinate, grow, bloom, set fruit, set seed and wilt. In this way you discover the true character of plants that have not been touched by constant pruning and other intervention. Also, self-seeding plants are rich in food sources and habitats for wildlife.

4. You can enjoy a cultivated chaos. By adding new species and removing superfluous plants, you can design your garden to match your aesthetics. This does not mean dogmatically restricting yourself to native plant species—though all environmentally conscious gardeners need to be aware of the dangers of introducing opportunistic plants outside their native environments.

In 1986, British artist and film director Derek Jarman moved to Dungeness after being diagnosed with HIV. He fell in love with a black fisherman’s cottage with brilliant yellow window frames that happened to be for sale at the time and Dungeness increasingly became the focal point of his life. An enthusiastic gardener since childhood, Jarman allowed his shingle garden to develop naturally. He established “beds” by laying lighter-coloured gravel in rectangles and circles and concentrating on self-seeding plants such as Eschscholzia californica (California poppy). In the foreground, Centranthus ruber (red valerian) blooms. Image: Jürgen Becker

British artist and film director Derek Jarman moved to Dungeness after falling in love with a fisherman’s cottage. An enthusiastic gardener since childhood, Jarman allowed his shingle garden to develop naturally. He established “beds” by laying lighter-coloured gravel in rectangles and circles and concentrating on self-seeding plants such as Eschscholzia californica (California poppy). In the foreground, Centranthus ruber (red valerian) blooms.

5. Versatility. Self-seeding plants can be used in a traditional garden design as well as in this newer informal style.

6. It can be done just about anywhere. Gardening with selfseeders works in mature and virgin gardens alike. In fact, you don’t even need a garden, for seeds will germinate wherever humus can collect, whether on balconies, in the cracks of paved walkways, in the joints of a brick or stone wall or on a flat, gravel-covered roof.

In the front garden, raised beds have been made by using timber for the structure and backfilling with humusrich soil. Dense vegetation has since developed that offers little space for seeds to germinate and establish. Paths laid with mussel shells suit the natural, informal appearance of the garden.

The raised beds here have been made by using timber for the structure and backfilling with humusrich soil. Paths laid with mussel shells suit the natural, informal appearance of the garden.

A) Knautia macedonica (Macedonian scabious) B) Gypsophila repens (creeping gypsophila ) C) Salvia nemorosa (Balkan clary, from seed) D) Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ (Balkan clary) E) Reseda alba (white mignonette) F) Sedum (stonecrop, from seed) G) Helleborus argutifolius (holly-leaved hellebore, from seed) H) Marrubium incanum (horehound) J) Salvia × sylvestris ‘Blauhügel’ (wood sage)

A) Knautia macedonica (Macedonian scabious) B) Gypsophila repens (creeping gypsophila ) C) Salvia nemorosa (Balkan clary, from seed) D) Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ (Balkan clary) E) Reseda alba (white mignonette) F) Sedum (stonecrop, from seed) G) Helleborus argutifolius (holly-leaved hellebore, from seed) H) Marrubium incanum (horehound) J) Salvia × sylvestris ‘Blauhügel’ (wood sage)

7. It offers an element of surprise. As there is no garden plan to realize and no precious plants to lose, there’s practically no way to fail. On the contrary, unexpected results are intriguing and stimulating.

8. It is inexpensive. Instead of purchasing a large number of established plants, all you need are a few plug plants or seeds.

9. It is suitable for beginners too. There is little to learn beforehand and what you do need to know you will find in this book. Many of the species are relatively easy to establish in the garden.

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Learn more about the authors: Jonas Reif, Christian Kress, and Jürgen Becker.

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Click image for a look inside this book.

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Taking inspiration from the gardens of Christopher Lloyd, Derek Jarman, and Henk Gerritsen, Cultivating Chaos teaches readers how to use self-seeding plants to grow naturalistic gardens.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Anne Wareham September 13, 2015 at 3:34 am

The self seeding abilities of some of the plants illustrated have proved strangely limited in my garden. Maybe you need to garden with a hoe and bare soil for this to work? Which is, curiously, a really old fashioned approach.

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