Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Another Unknown Volunteer November 29, 2009

Leave enough empty space in the garden and interesting things start to show up. I have refrained from completely filling up my parking strip once it was cleared of St. John’s Wort, partly due to cheapness and also just to see what would come to grow here. Allowing nature to fill in the empty spots has been an exercise in patience and restraint – I tend not to yank things out until they have proven to be either totally invasive or just things I intensely dislike.

Blog buddies have helped me ID a few plants that were new here, including Mexican feather grass. It is a spreader for sure, but not so vigorously that I can’t keep on top of it, and I have enjoyed its fluffy tendrils – they are fun to pet (although apparently not fun FOR pets – someone I know spent several hundred dollars having its seedheads removed from the inside of her dog’s nose!). So maybe some of you will clue me in on what this one is, and whether I should stop it in its tracks while I still can.

Mystery grass in parking strip

It’s a pretty sizable grass, and it grew to a couple of feet high over the past two years. I just had an awful thought that it might be Pampas grass, in which case I need to dig it out before it takes over and becomes immovable, but if it’s something more well-behaved I might still need to move it further away from the edge of the bed.

It’s friendly with its next-door neighbor, the feather grass:

Groovy grasses

In this shot, you can see how I have let another volunteer, violets, colonize unwisely large swaths of ground:

Volunteer grasses

Need to get on that one of these days, before it takes over completely!

So, anyone got a guess about my latest mystery plant?


Volunteer Grass: Friend or Thug? March 5, 2009

Filed under: grasses,my garden,weeds — greenwalks @ 9:38 pm
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This breezy little grass showed up in my parking strip a couple of years ago. I don’t know where it came from, since I haven’t seen it in any neighbor’s gardens.

It’s in a silly spot, right at the edge of the sidewalk, but at least it flops over the other direction. I should probably move it, but first I’d like to know if it’s something I should keep around. I love the way grasses look, but I’m allergic to them so have not really welcomed too many into my garden. Any guesses on what it might be? Looks kind of like some stipas I’ve seen, but I’m certainly no expert.

Unknown volunteer floppy grass

One possible clue – it’s having babies!

Unknown volunteer grass 'babies'

Hm, maybe that means it’s likely to want to take over. I didn’t notice these sprouts in previous years – maybe the hard winter did something to put the plant into a frenzy of spring replication??

It’s funny how the definition of a weed is just a plant in a place we don’t want it. Since I tend to be a cheap and disorganized type of gardener, I usually welcome self-sowers with open arms. But I don’t want to let a real thug get established! I’ll be curious to see if anyone has an ID.Thanks!


Late to the Party October 19, 2008

Down in the parking strip garden, ripping out the awful-looking late-season asters (they have a horrible rust-looking problem, visible in the photo below, so I may just yank out all that come up next spring), I came upon a nice little surprise. I had spent the summer bemoaning my lack of cosmos re-seeding volunteers, even as some other garden bloggers were commenting that they had almost more than they wanted.

So, it was with great delight that I found, where the asters had been hiding them, a few late season cosmos. This one, a bright bubble-gum pink, even has another bud or two on it. It’s getting pretty cold here at night, into the high 30s, so it may not bloom further. But I’m grateful to have seen it at least briefly.

Late Volunteer Cosmos</a


Freak tiny corn September 27, 2008

It’s always funny to me to hear about the weirdo volunteer seedlings that sprout in people’s gardens, whether from compost, bird leavings, or another mysterious process. Probably my most unusual sprout this summer was this freakishly miniature corn that showed up on the edge of my veggie patch, despite the fact that neither I nor anyone else on the street has ever grown corn that I know of.

Freak volunteer corn - alive

When it first came up, I thought it looked like corn but wasn’t sure. As it matured and its little tassels showed up, I let it stick around and wondered if I’d get to “harvest” something that maybe looked a little bit like the baby corn that usually gets tossed into bad vegetarian Chinese food.

But one day I got tired of looking at the broken-necked sunflowers and ripped them out (thanks, Mr/Ms Squirrel), and when I came back to the garden later I found this:

Freak volunteer corn after squirrel removed it

I don’t have a spycam but I’m just going to take a wild guess and say that the pissed-off squirrel, not finding any more sunflowers to break/devour, decided to see if the corn was worth gnawing on, ripped it out, took one bite, and tossed it. Either that or it has weirdly accurate perception of which plants I like, and decided to show me who’s the boss in the garden (after what I learned about crows this week, I wouldn’t be that surprised). Oh well, it probably wouldn’t have been edible anyway.


Valiant Volunteers September 19, 2008

Cynthia of the wonderful blog Brambleberries in the Rain had a very thought-provoking post yesterday about allowing volunteer plants into the garden and the sometimes pleasing, sometimes frightening consequences that can ensue. It got me thinking about my own faithful garden volunteers.

Since my parking strip garden started from nothing (after we ripped out all the St. John’s wort, it was a blank slate), and my budget for replacement plants was small, I have relied a lot on volunteer re-seeders from my first year’s plantings. And some stuff just wanders in from the neighborhood via bird or wind distribution and I have to decide what stays and what goes.

Being fairly faint-of-heart when it comes to plant removal (Instead of “Hey little guy, you chose to sprout in my garden? That’s great. Now die!!!” I’m more likely to just let it stay and see how it grows.), I of course end up with a fairly random selection and a bit too much of some stuff. I am trying to learn to be more ruthless, and maybe next spring I will also recognize more of the “babies” as they emerge and can decide whether to edit (i.e. eliminate), transplant, or let them stay.

My parking strip garden as of 9/16

This summer, I didn’t spend very much time in the garden. Between taking care of my daughter, having the cold from hell, going on a few vacations, and generally succumbing to massive laziness in the few hours that could have been used for chores indoors and out, I just pretty much let things be. So, the volunteers were my heroes – they did their work (growing with no help!) while I neglected mine. For that, I am grateful. Below are some of my favorites.

Sweet alyssum sometimes overwinters in my garden (Zone 8), sometimes not. But it usually leaves some seeds in the ground that sprout the following year. It doesn’t take over much space, its clusters of tiny white flowers smell delicious, and it’s one of the lower-growers that keep the weeds down a bit.

Sweet alyssum

Calendula officinalis, or pot marigold, seeds itself annually in my garden too. I usually have to pull a few out, since it tends to like to sprout right where I’m planning to plant my beans or parsley. Its flowers are so cheery, and I love their silky texture. The petals are edible and make a bright addition to salads. They do need fairly frequent dead-heading to stay nice-looking, and are also susceptible to mildew late in the season, as you can see from this photo.


Cerinthe major purpurascens, aka Blue Shrimp Plant, has always been a favorite of mine since I first saw it growing in a street garden a few years ago. Its gently arching stems produce a purply-blue flower that does indeed look a bit like a shrimp (its other common name is honeywort). In my garden, it sows itself liberally and sprouts in spring and again in late summer. No flower on this one yet, but click here to see what it ends up looking like.

Volunteer cerinthe

Hm, this is turning into a pretty long post (for me). I might have to think about doing a Part II. I’ll close this chapter with one of my favorite volunteers, Bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus), aka cornflower. The first year these started appearing in my garden, I pulled them up by the bucket-full, thinking they were a weed. They’re a bit on the tall side, so they don’t work as well at the edge of the border, but I usually leave a lot in, because they come up early in the spring and then again in the late summer. Most are blue, but there’s the occasional pink or white one that appears. How can I resist? Plus, the bees dig them, as evidenced below.

Bee in Bachelor's button

Do you have any garden volunteers whom you welcome in every year? Are there others you wish would pass on by?