We often describe a place that’s untended as “going to seed.” Letting things go to seed, however, can also mean filling the garden with flowers grown from the seeds of existing plants. The arrival of new life from such an unlikely source reveals part of the magic of the plant world. And while planting seeds in trays has proven to be a reliable and common way to propagate your own plants, many of us lack the time and space needed for this activity. Letting plants go to seed and cultivating their offspring in the garden is a less time-consuming way to take advantage of nature’s bounty.
This approach offers adventurous gardeners many benefits. Plants that self-sow often provide design effects that even the most carefully laid plans fail to achieve. Volunteers grow in graceful drifts or as fanciful beacons throughout the garden, creating unexpected and pleasing combinations. Allowing a few species to spread themselves across the garden can unify a design and help solve the problem of “drifts of one.” Letting nature take its course just might yield a surprising new plant color or form.
20 Gardenworthy Self-Sowers
Self-sown seedlings are also a simple way to add structure to the border. Architectural plants like mulleins (Verbascum spp. and cvs.), Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium), and hollyhocks (Alcea spp. and cvs.) can create bold effects quickly without costly investment. It is no coincidence that many of the best-loved cottage flowers are reliable self-sowers that are neither expensive nor difficult to grow. Hollyhocks, foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea and cvs.), and columbines (Aquilegia spp. and cvs.) are all vigorous seeders, requiring only the guiding hand of the gardener to keep them in bounds.