leonie cornelius

BOTANICAL LIFESTYLE by LEONIE CORNELIUS
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Happy self-seeders

There is something immensely satisfying about planting a flower that self seeds easily. Allowing plants to self seed feels like the antitheses of high maintenance gardening, a relaxed and informal way of the garden evolving on its own. To me, planting self-seeders is as though you are allowing the garden to play. In these instances it is nature that decides where to lay down roots, the wind carrying seeds in haphazard ways and scattering them in informal drifts and patterns. Allowing the garden to play a little this way feels like we are in tune with what nature wants to do naturally and this is a lovely way of looking at the garden. Apart from the obvious visual benefits, allowing plants to self seed is low maintenance which is good news for many of us who are too busy to put in long hours in the garden.In essence self-seeders are plants that scatter copious amounts of seeds around them which will often grow quickly into new plants and in turn will scatter seeds again in an endless cycle. Many of these are magnets for insects and wildlife and provide valuable nectar and seeds in the garden. Interestingly single blooms are the best choices when considering wildlife friendly self-seeders, as insects find double and filled flowers harder to navigate.From a design perspective, one of the main things I love about self-seeders is the element of surprise. You never know where the lovely self-seeded beauties will pop up and often this can be in the most surprising places. In nooks and crannies, on walls and even on rooftops- what’s not to love about this happy wilderness?So considering the many benefits you may be wondering what the best plants are for self-seeding in the garden. There are plenty to choose from but I have a few firm favourites which are indestructible given the right conditions and which come back year after year. I absolutely adore the dauntingly named Eschscholzia californica, or Californian poppy. So simple and delicate appearance, this is one of those plants that always brings a smile to my face. The flower is named after the Russian physicist Dr Johann Friedrich Eschscholz who was part of the team that discovered the plant when exploring the Pacific coastline of the United states on 1815. In California, this poppy grows wild and covered vast areas of hillsides and fields with its buttery colour.

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The lovely perennial which is often grown as an annual, has pretty cup shaped blooms in various hues of yellow, orange and even bronze and is a wonderful addition to a dry border. Despite its delicate appearance this flower is quite a tough little cookie and thrives in gravelly, dry, well drained soil. It is well known as a prolific self-seeder and it can flower for a long time, even setting new seeds and new flowers even in the same growing season.

One fascinating characteristic is the way the flower is shaped before it opens. Long slender teardrop in shape, it opens in the sun to reveal the generous silky, fiery coloured cup, only to close again at nightfall. It also boasts some lovely seed heads which make a cracking sound when they burst. This sound is particularly fascinating when the sound is amplified by many of these flowers popping side by side.

Growing these flowers is easy, you can sow them directly into well-drained, gravelly raked soil in Spring and to prolong the flowering season a good tip is to sow successively from April through to May meaning you’ll have plenty of flowers all Summer long. Another way to prolong your flowering season is to trim some of your flowers to the ground in mid summer which will ensure a succession of flowers throughout the season.

Good companions for the Californian poppy
The colour of this flower is perfectly suited to a hot and fiery border and plants such as Papaver commutatum, the Caucasian scarlet poppy is a lovely ladybird red companion. Calendula flowers also look great with these and add to the fiery hot scheme. Another warm coloured companion with stunning seasonal colour is the wallflower -Erysimum cheiri ‘Fire King’ with its endless amount of long lasting orange-red clustered flowers. The colour of the Californian poppy also works really well with cool colours and the elegant Lavandula stoechas as well as Salvia Mainacht both of which would set beautiful contrast to the cheerful yellow. The sweet forget me not-Myosotis sylvatica is another cheerful companion which contrasts in colour and with the shape of its tiny cerulean blue flowers and yellow eyes.

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Edible self-seeders
Self seeding plants are not limited to ornamental plants. Many edible flowers are great self seeders and are as useful for their pretty appearance as they are delicious in the kitchen. Borage (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a firm favourite and a delicious addition to salads and cocktails and Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) is fantastic for salads and for making ‘nasturtium capers’ in Autumn. Many salads such as mustard, mizuna and rocket are also prolific self-seeders and are great to grow alongside ornamentals.

Wildlife self-seeders
Many self-seeders are fantastic plants for wildlife, providing rich source of nectar and valuable seed-heads in Autumn and Winter. Plants such as the common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) are often covered in hungry bees and the Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a stunning statuesque plant which has valuable architectural seed-heads which birds can’t resist. These thistles are also great for cut flowers!

Architectural self-seeders
Some self-seeders can grow to be stunning architectural additions to the garden and one of my favourites, which also belongs in the edible section is Fenell -Foeniculum vulgare. Their feathery foliage and lovely coloured flowers are beautiful combined with almost any flower.  Verbena bonariensis is another tall beauty, with stunning purple clusters of flowers rising above most other plants in the border.

Maintaining the self seeded border
One disadvantage of self-seeded spaces is that it can start to look messy, with too many of one flower growing in one place. Some flowers are happy doing their own thing and don’t swamp others while some are prolific and can take over a border. To avoid this and also clusters of a single flower type in one area, simply transplant some of the new seedlings to another part of the garden and remove any excessive spreading seedlings.

 

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Photo By: Colin Gillen

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