Celebrating self seeders

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Plants for free – what could be better than that?

It’s at this time of year that we can delve into our borders to lift and divide our perennials to make more. However, it’s the plants that propagate themselves and spread their joy around the garden without any interference from us that I applaud the most.

Over the years I have realised that it is these self seeders that give the garden its unique identity. They are the plants that are happy in the environment and loosen up the look of a planting scheme by placing themselves in a magical and haphazard way.

Campanula latifolia adds height and drama to a mixed border after planting itself!

Welcoming spring

Every April I am overwhelmed by the snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) that spring up in the garden. Over the last few decades they have been allowed to self-seed and the result is enchanting. Running alongside them are the spring peas (Lathryrus vernus) and the primulas. Each places themselves in a spot that you’d never consider, resulting in a look that is relaxed.

Tulipa sprengeri with Smyrnium perfoliatum make a wonderful double act Fritillaria meleagris creates a natural drift after being allowed to self-seed

A few weeks later I welcome the arrival of the biennial Smyrnium perfoliatum in the borders. This vibrant lime green plant is often avoided as it can be invasive, but I just love it and wouldn’t be without it. It offers a ribbon of bright green at the end of April into May that adds such vibrancy to a border. Looking fairly similar to a euphorbia it works well with every colour it meets. In September when the seeds are ripe, I pull the plants out the ground and simply flick the seed wherever I want it to appear the following year. It’s like sprinkling fairy dust.

Tulipa sprengeri has self-seeded and offers a ribbon of colour through the borders in May

Flowering just in time to enjoy the backdrop of the smyrnium are the numerous Tulipa sprengeri. This rare and hard to come by species tulip is so worth hunting down. About 40 years ago my uncle planted a few bulbs and now we have hundreds. The small by mighty red flowers appear after the hybrid tulips are over and they are show stopping. Taking between three to five years to flower from seed you need patience and in April you’ll need a sharp eye, so you don’t weed out the seedlings. The bulbs can cost about £3 each so allowing them to self-seed is the best way of increasing your treasure.

Summer sensation

As the summer goes on, we are blessed with blue clouds of Campanula latifolia at Stockton Bury that have self-seeded in every bed. The pale blue bell-shaped flowers offer a cool look on a hot July day. I have to confess that we have slightly too many now so I will endeavour to deadhead them this year before they set seed. Being so determined to seed they often provide another set of flowers after being deadheaded.

The lofty and lovely Campanula latifolia

A plant that I long to succeed with is the eryngium. We do have some successful clumps growing in our clay soil, but I rejoice when I spot seedlings that have rooted in our gravel paths. They are far more at home in a very well-drained gravel garden. You can learn so much about a plant by studying where its seeds germinate well. Only this morning I have noticed that the potted hepaticas in the alpine house have self-seeded on the gravel bed the pots rest on better than in the pots of compost themselves.

All of these prolific self seeders are a gift to the gardener. Enjoy watching the ripening seed heads burst and shower your garden with seeds that will bring you free plants for years to come.

Tamsin Westhorpe

With over 25 years’ experience in the horticultural industry, Tamsin has plenty of practical, hands on advice to share. Her career has seen her edit The English Garden magazine for six years, write scripts for TV gardening, lecture at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset and care for parks and gardens. She is now a freelance writer and curator and gardener of Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire (listed by The Times in the top 20 gardens to visit July 2017). Tamsin is also an RHS Chelsea Flower Show Judge, co-Chair of The Garden Media Guild and a prolific speaker at many high profile events. She has recently written her first book ‘Diary of a Modern Country Gardener’ published by Orphans Publishing and is the voice of the popular Candide Gardening podcast ‘Fresh from the pod’.

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