Some gardeners dismiss annuals as too much work because they need to be replaced every season. But if you choose wisely, and don’t mind a bit of easy weeding, annuals will plant themselves where they want to grow and leave the gardener out of it entirely.
This is the low-maintenance strategy pursued by Marian Somes to such romantic effect in her French-style rose garden Picardy in regional Victoria. Somes has granny’s bonnet (Aquilegia), forget-me-not, violets, sweet peas, foxgloves, centranthus, California poppy and violas all dancing together under her roses, having planted none of them for decades.
Marian Somes follows the self-seeding method for her French-style rose garden in regional Victoria.
All that is required for this method of gardening is faith that the bare winter beds will spring back to life as soon as the soil warms, and a reasonable tolerance for mess. The messy bit is the wait for the seeds to mature and fall. Some plants die off with great elegance, but most simply look bedraggled and sad. You have to hold your nerve and not clean up until the seed has fallen.
Somes gives the aquilegia a helping hand by shaking the seed pods around the garden, but everything else pleases itself. There’s no mulching in this style of gardening, as that would prevent the emergence of the delicate seedlings in spring.
Somes says that after 25 years she still has some shaky moments in winter, not quite believing that it will all come up again, but then it does.
Parsley, rocket and shiso leaf are all high-performing self-seeders.Credit:iStock
In my garden I rely on purple shiso leaf, (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), to find good places to fill with its frilly burgundy leaf. The purple self-seeds more enthusiastically than the green, and as a bonus, tastes great in a salad, or sliced atop a bowl of rice. Parsley too, is a great seeder, so when I finally do pull out a mature plant, I make sure to take the long route to the compost bin shaking it as I go. Later I love the treasure hunt of finding a bunch of parsley for dinner in unexpected places.
Other self-seeding edibles include rocket, mustard greens, coriander and borage. (Those tomatoes that pop up out of the compost, while edible, are much seedier than the named varieties, so I pull those out rather than let them go).
For flowers the classic Sydney self-seeders include pot marigolds, love-lies-bleeding, cosmos, cornflower, seaside daisy, and California poppy.
The downside of these annuals is the same as the upside – they seed prolifically and germinate easily. So you don’t have to have a green thumb to grow them, but they will inevitably turn up in parts of the garden you don’t want them or in numbers that would put everything else out of balance. Learn to recognise their juvenile form and pull them up before they cause any trouble. And if you live near bushland, also check the local weed lists before planting anything you know to be an adventurer.
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