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Taking All Volunteers

by germinatrix | May 2nd, 2009

a haze of arugula rises up behind my container gadena haze of arugula rises up behind my container garden

I am NOT a neat, fastidious gardener.

Actually, I am not a neat, fastidious ANYTHING … I tend to enjoy the random, the accidental, the chaotic. I am a big fan of letting things go to seed; I never cut anything that blossoms until it is well past its usefulness as a thing of beauty or a food source for bees and birds. I am also not incredibly organized – I SO admire my gardening friends who gather seeds, dry them, label them, store them, and then begin the whole process of growing the following season – because no matter what my intentions, I just can’t do it. So I take the passive approach. I accept any and all volunteers.

I pry open dry seedpods and blow them into the breeze, letting them fall where they will. When I pluck out dried plants at the end of the season, I shake them until I am certain not a kernel is going to waste. I don’t fear the promiscuity of the ebullient self-seeder – I KNOW arugula can go on a rampage, but I will still allow a good 1/4 of my spring crop to flower and seed itself where it will. I love seeing the drifts of delicate white blossoms buzzing with bees. I love knowing that I’ll be finding delicious little patches of the peppery young leaves in a month or two, huddled in the cooling shade of a ceramic pot, or cuddled next to an aloe.

yummy lettuce, self-planted in a rowyummy lettuce, self-planted in a row

The rigor with which nature gardens can be surprising! My late summer lettuces must have very purposefully planted their next generation, because the little volunteer mixed greens are lined up in the straightest, neatest row right next to the bed of their ancestors. I couldn’t have planted a row that perfect!

vols-cham2wouldn’t these two be great mingling together? inspiration…

Chamomile has been very prolific this year – which I love (mint/chamomile tea being my favorite after dinner drink). There is a little sprinkling of it under a mound of Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’, and I just adore the combination! I wish I would have thought of it – but I am totally going to take credit for coming up with this delicate combo the next time I add edibles to a garden for a client. Mama didn’t raise no fool!

It bothers me that the phrase ‘gone to seed’ means that a thing has deteriorated, and that ‘seedy’ means rundown, dangerous; unsavory. What is more glorious, what has more potential, more hope, than a SEED? Please!!!

Okay, let’s coin a term. From now on, use the term ‘SEEDY’ when you want to refer to something as cute, a little edgy, a little sexy … like, “I LOVE Carla’s new haircut! It is so fresh and seedy!”

Will it work???

22 Responses to “Taking All Volunteers”

  1. I LOVE volunteers. It’s so exciting to see them come up, and they are always happiest plants – more so than plants that you plant yourself. My sister swears to this. Her best columbines always come up through the cracks in the limestone edging rocks in her raised beds – always thick and lusty, while hand transplanted ones languish somewhat.
    I’m amazed at that row of perfect lettuce. They are not only volunteers, but they look like they practiced marching in formation before they germinated!

  2. germinatrix says:

    Sarah, it’s SO true, what you and your sister say. The volunteers are always so robust – horticultural darwinism! Wait, darwinism IS pretty much horticultural anyway, right? (I’ve been out of school a long time)
    Your comment about the lettuce made me spit my tea. Haha! I LOVE it when people hop on a metaphor and take it for a ride … we are now friends!

  3. Yes! Let’s hear it for all the promiscuous herbs and leafy bits, especially. Could there ever be too much sweetly scented chamomile, pungent Salvia Berggarten or my garden’s number one wandering, wayward, multi-colored wench – Rumex sanguineus ssp sanguineus. (Can the Germinatrix whip her into shape?)

  4. If we can measure things in thighs then we can certainly adopt ‘seedy’ as a desirable descriptive! Germi you are going to have to author a germinatrix dictionary!

  5. germinatrix says:

    Alice, we are like minded! My vegetable beds are so geometrical – I find it very spirited that my herb go their own way (even when it’s in a line)
    And Rumex is much too sassy, too sexy, too cool for me to even WANT to tame! I want to be overwhelmed by her, it just hasn’t happened yet. I’ll keep trying. Good Germinatrixes are persistent!

    Loree! YES! Let’s keep a list – but YOU started the ball rolling by asking me to measure the agave spike in thighs! I am still laughing…

  6. Lovely– nature is the master gardener!

  7. I like the idea of volunteers, however you make it seem “cool”. Or “Seedy” I should say. Since we are trying to get it to catch on.

    we had a barrel of mixed greens that failed last year and we planted onions & garlic in it this year… then guess what came up in between all of it… mixed greens of course.

    Kind of cool. They looked so “seedy”. Ok… enough.

  8. germinatrix says:

    Hey Chanchow! I know … I think designing halfway and letting Nature finish is the best way to go. Why fight it?
    Omigod I am having the biggest dejavu right now… have I typed that before? If not, I’m sure I will type that again.

    James! First of all, I appreciate the gusto with which you have embraced the new term we are coining! Don’t give up!
    I am feeling really excited about encouraging the lettuce volunteers now. I’m going to try and vibe them into volunteering in between all of my other vegetables … then I’ll have a fantastic, edible groundcover!
    I don’t think the marauding raccoon is going to let me do that, though. Boo.
    That raccoon is definitely NOT seedy. (I went there!)

  9. starlilygazing says:

    Thank you for your liberating post, Ivette. I have been feeling guilty about letting my lonely little rue go to flower, but I just love the bees it attracts and the puffy tiny seed pods it has now. I hope they burst and start new plants everywhere! Being “seedy” is very satisfying to the soul.

  10. I worry a little about your use of the word seedy. In principle I know exactly what you mean but don’t forget the existing meaning of the word seedy – as in disreputable. This is undoubtedly true in the case of Arugula but other plants might be slightly offended !

  11. I love volunteers! They create plant combinations and locations I never would have thought of on my own, and most of the time, it’s perfect. I’ve always been a fan of the seedy.

  12. germinatrix says:

    Oh Starlily, NEVER feel guilty about letting a plant flower and set seed! We are doing our part to create habitats for birds and bees and other pollinators! We are NOT lazy gardeners … we are EARTH MOTHERS!

    Hi James A-S! Yes, I know I am going out on a ledge here, but I am trying to ‘Take Back’ the word. I take issue with the connotation that flowers going to seed are somehow disreputable when they are actually part of an amazing cycle of renewal!
    The plants know I’m fighting for them…

    Hey Megan! Right on! We who enjoy the seedier side of gardening are collaborating with the universe! And THAT is awesome…

  13. I’m with you on the seeder. My garden is filled with them and I love ‘em. trouble is I beed to do a little pulling out now; larkspur, poppies, love in a mist etc. Hope something is growing underneath.

  14. germinatrix says:

    Jenny, if anyone has beautiful self-seeders growing under their beautiful self-seeders, it’s you! The results of your joyous collaboration with nature is so evident in that exuberant garden of yours. I am going to learn alot by following your blog!

  15. Check it out!!!

    (And check out the new link–I’m about to start redirecting my blog, but I’m almost 100% up and running at!)

  16. germinatrix says:

    Kate my Food Sister! OMG – are you an amazing fairy godmother or what? I just ran out and ate one of the blossoms – and it’s true … peppery, nutty, but mellow. I am going to put them in EVERYTHING! I have enough of them!
    What a Foodsaver you are! Not the vacuum sealed bag machine variety, the super cool friend who cooks variety!

  17. I’m so jealous–I want to try them too! Oh, for a serendipitous trip to LA to visit….

  18. I have a bunch of chamomile I grew from seed this year. Should be blooming soon and I hope they make lots of new plants. Does chamomile tea you make from the garden taste better than chamomile tea from a bag? Because the chamomile tea I’ve had before is gross.

  19. You know, ChuckB, it took me quite a while to like the taste of chamomile. I can’t say I enjoy it solo, but I really like a mix that I make of chamomile, mint, lemongrass, and a little basil Siam Queen. It’s calming enough to drink at night, but refreshing enough to have during the afternoon without falling asleep. I think the other herbs help mellow out the rather overpowering of the chamomile, softening it and bringing it into a balance.

    You grow mint, right? I think even adding a little of that will help the taste, but still give you the effect – and I do find that the sooting effect of chamomile is real. Otherwise I wouldn’t drink the stuff, because I agree with you – most of the stuff I’ve had is gross!

  20. The blues and purples in the containers are dreamy! The arugula flowers are a perfect backdrop.

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