According to marketing research, there is no other word that Manitoba consumers like better than the word "free". I doubt that gardeners are any different and I know I really like to get a plant free whenever I get the chance.
Of course, we all know that gardeners also spend an immense amount of money on their gardens, so frugality only goes so far — we are still determined to have our gardens the way we want them, no matter the cost.
One way that I get free plants is to use volunteer plants from my very own garden.
When I do the initial couple of weedings in my garden in the spring, I always leave lots of volunteer plants in case I need some fillers later on.
As the garden puts forth growth, I begin to see holes here and there that need to be filled. Rather than go out and buy more plants — although sometimes I do if the fillers I have are not suitable for a particular spot — I will use the volunteer plants that I have on hand.
Not all plants self seed and not all plants are suitable to be used in this fashion. They have to be plants that transplant without too much setback and that grow quickly as it is usually well on in the planting season before I get around to filling all the holes in the borders.
Until I do finish, however, I tolerate patches of seedlings that are growing around the parent plants, leaving enough for my purposes but getting rid of excess — and with volunteer self-seeded plants, there are usually lots of extras!
The first to be transplanted are the early blooming flowers such as bachelor buttons and poppies whose seedlings are first to appear in the garden. Although poppies have a reputation for not liking to be transplanted, I have found that if the job is done early enough and the plants are still small, the transplant shock is minimized.
As well as poppies, bachelor buttons soon get too big to move so they have to be transplanted quite early. Cosmos seedlings also come up fairly early but they do not grow quite as fast and I have successfully transplanted cosmos seedlings until almost the end of June.
Cosmos are great for filling in empty spaces toward the back of a border where, for whatever reason, there seems to be a gap. They are large plants so two or three plants will usually fill in a blank spot.
I usually restrict poppies to the vegetable patch because they are very fleeting and I would just end up with a gap in the border after they have finished blooming.
Bachelor buttons, on the other hand, are very useful to squeeze in here and there as filler. If consistently deadheaded, they will bloom all summer.
Two of the very best plants to use as late season fillers are matricaria and Nepeta, and a bonus is that both are perennials that bloom the first year from seed. One thing to remember is that if you have more than one kind of a certain plant, be sure to take seedlings from close by a parent plant that you can identify.
I have a single and a double flowering matricaria and I much prefer the double one. I am very careful to ensure that the seedlings I use are right beside a parent plant I know to be double.
What I like about both Nepeta and matricarie is that the seedlings will develop into good-sized transplants without getting leggy and therefore can be transplanted right into early July. They develop quickly after being transplanted and will provide attractive foliage and pretty bloom through mid-summer right up until fall frost.
Because they are transplanted late in the season, they bloom later and thus extend the bloom period — the older established plants will have bloomed themselves out while these newer plants will still be in full bloom. They make great fillers because of their colour as well.
Matricaria is white and Nepeta is blue so they fit very nicely into spaces in beds and borders no matter what the colours of the nearby plants; blue and white flowering plants are traditionally used as filler plants.
There are often seedlings of other flowers — annual and perennial — that pop up in the garden in the spring. Marigolds, chives, heliopsis, sweet peas, and portulaca are just a few that appear in my garden on a regular basis.
When you are weeding during the early part of the growing season, be careful to save some of these seedlings until you are sure you don’t need them. They are useful … and they are free!
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.