In My Garden: Volunteers

Who doesn’t love free plants? Especially plants that add beautiful foliage and flowers to your landscape.

I’ve been fascinated by the phenomenon of plants just showing up wherever there is room and resources for them to grow. After I took down an aging sycamore maple, I left the space empty for a year to see what came up. I counted 25 different species of plants! Of course, many of them were undesirable weeds like red sorrel and mugwort, and I’m still trying to dig them out. Others, like Virginia creeper and St. Johns wort were good plants but in the wrong place, so they were moved.  A few, like boneset and wild strawberry, were great plants in the right place and remain in that garden today.

As a result, I have adopted a policy of only weeding out things I recognize as weeds and know will be undesirable.  Other plants I let go for a while until I can identify them and decide if I want them and if so, where to put them and how much I will allow them to spread.  Now I have a good collection of plants that have volunteered to live in my garden and that I have decided to let stay and form a permanent part of the landscape.  This spring I took a walk around the yard to find and photograph the volunteers that  earned their place here. From the ground up, here’s what I found.


Moss. This grows on the brick around my front-door planter as well as in the lawn, both shady spots. The moss is especially welcome wherever the grass won’t grow thickly due to shade. I have even been known to transplant moss within the garden to fill in bare spots!

 


Buttercups. These buttercups (Ranunculus spp.) grow within the rough grass that is only mowed once a month, so in June there is a wonderful wildflower meadow effect. I do have to remove them from the garden beds, as they will take over and crowd out other plants, but in my Cape Cod lawn they are welcome.

 


Violets. Also in my Cape Cod lawn are violets (Viola spp.), mostly these purple ones but sometimes the white ones are seen. I know, many people think of violets the same way they think of dandelions, as weeds to be routed out. My philosophy is to neither water nor fertilize my lawn, so I welcome things that are green and provide interesting texture among the grasses. In the low-nutrient sandy soil in my yard, violets don’t become too dominant, so they stay and are appreciated.


Wild strawberry. This groundcover (Fragaria virginiana) seems to thrive in both sun and shade, sending out runners that put out roots and plantlets wherever they find empty space. I’m letting it run as a groundcover in my woodland garden.  What started out as a few plants 3 years ago now covers a 15′ x 40′ woodland garden as a living mulch.  It doesn’t crowd out other plants and so lets a few weeds though, but it blocks light so weeds don’t germinate as freely.

Daisies.  These daisies are likely the non-native ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). They are a European plant that has naturalized in the US and in some cases are considered a noxious weed. These came up around the mulch ring of a maple tree and look happy to be there. As long as they are not too aggressive, they are welcome to stay.

 


Boneset. This is a 3-foot perennial, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), a relative of Joe-Pye weed and a Cape Cod native.   The leaf has nice interest, the white flowers appear later in the season, and it is a pollinator magnet.  (This picture was taken last summer.) After 3 years, there is only one other boneset plant in the garden bed, so it doesn’t seem to spread much at all.

 


Goldenrod. This is a small clump of what I believe to be Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) that appeared next to the shed door. By August it will be over 3 feet tall and blooming with yellow flowers. I’m going to try clipping it back in late June to see if it controls the height and makes the flowers more prolific. There are also a couple of dozen other clumps all around the yard, and one of my annual spring tasks is to “edit” these clumps so they don’t take over completely.

 

Bayberry.  This is the quintessential Cape Cod shrub, and it grows well on the sandy sunny slope in the back area.  They spread out and form loose patches of shrubs, and even when an old shrub dies off, a new one (or more) will be right behind it.  I love the curly leaves, and would love the fruit if the birds left me any. (This picture is from last summer.)

 

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