Once upon a time, there was a garden. It wasn’t the most beautiful garden in all the land, but it bountifully provided for those who lived in the castle. Okay, no, wait. I’m kidding. It wasn’t a castle. Not even close. Nope. Just a normal house, on a normal street, with some folks who were eager to improve their eating habits.
The last vegetable garden to inhabit my backyard was about four years ago. At the time, I was very dedicated to growing my own food. I’ll admit that I wish I still had room for those wonderful veggies. One day, I’m sure that I will once again, in addition to many other fruits and what not. At it’s height, my intensive planting skills were on point. The variety was amazing, and I did everything I could to stay on top of harvesting. However, with all things in life, a few crops would always manage to get away from me, and inevitably, drop their precious ripe seeds all over the ground.
There’s something about volunteer plants that automatically makes me want to cheer for them. Yes, I know, there are tons of hardy annuals that you can seed in the fall. But what about those awesome plants who take matters into their own hands? Erm, matters into their own…leaves? You know what I mean! After all, the world is a cruel place, how can I justify pulling up an edible plant or sassy flower with a tenacious will to survive and thrive. And this, my friends, is what has led to this post – annuals that refuse to give up, and will absolutely take over your entire garden if you aren’t careful.
Amaranth – I’ve been growing amaranth since I first discovered it at Baker Creek Seeds. I’ve seen a couple farmer florists create a lot of hype about growing love lies bleeding, which is also a gorgeous amaranth. However, for whatever reason, I’ve never really been attracted to growing it. Lucky for me, there are tons of different amaranths in tons of bright colors. I began growing Ellen’s Purple Amaranth (from Bountiful Gardens), Kerala Red, and Opopeo. My initial intent of these beauties in the veggie garden was to grow them for grain. As I found, the preferred varieties for grain are those with golden seeds, rather than the dark. Much like quinoa, they could be threshed, rinsed, and popped over a flame, boiled, etc. Lovely! Low and behold, ripe amaranth will drop seed every chance it gets, and it sure did. Though I still plant new varieties every year for the cutting patch, the plants of past years still come back relentlessly – they even grow in cracks in the side walk. I love them so much, I’m not even mad – but, I can see how they would drive someone else totally crazy.
Sunflowers – Let’s just be honest, I’ve never met a person who could say, “Ugh! I hate sunflowers so much!” and sincerely mean it. I’m sure that such a person may exist out there. They may have perfectly good reason to hate sunflowers, too. That’s okay. It’s good to have strong opinions. But, I’m not that person. I remember a time when I didn’t like them very much, until I grew them. Over 6 years ago, I planted a package of Lemon Queen sunflowers. The main purpose was to attract some bees, but I found that they were so cheerful when cut and taken into the house. They sparked my love of pollen-free varieties, which I now eagerly wait to bloom. Like amaranth, sunflower volunteers simply do not care – about the weather, about where they grow, about anything – they just grow. Sometimes, I wish I could be so carefree!
Tomatillos – I love salsa verde. In fact, at one point, I may have had at least 15 different recipes in rotation which called for tomatillos. The first time I grew them, they flourished. Is it normal for these “trees” to become over 8 feet tall? I honestly don’t know, but my 5 “trees” were absolutely covered in more ripe fruits than I could handle. A few fruits fell to the ground, followed by a few more. By the end of the year, the fruits had decomposed on the ground. The green tissue had gone and I was left with little “cages” filled with seeds. Quite neat, actually. But, I had no clue what that meant when the time came that I no longer wanted tomatillos. Four years later, tomatillo plants are running rampant through the flower beds. At last estimate, about 40 plants had begun to overpower the dianthus bed. They’re even popping through the plastic mulch. How is that even possible? Only time will tell if I will win this battle. Maybe you can have too many tomatillos.
Honorable Mention – Spring wheat and purple podded pole beans have been welcome members to the garden for the last five years. While I wouldn’t consider them borderline invasive and annoying like the tomatillos, the purple pole beans have always been very reliable for me. What baffles me the most about these beans is that they manage to spring up every year in a completely different location than they had been planted. I’ll blame animals for this occurrence, but it is kind of fun to try to guess where it’s going to grow. Wheat, like the others has also been a very reliable volunteer and are surprisingly gorgeous when nestled into an early spring bouquet.
What volunteers do you deal with on a yearly basis? Do you love or loathe them?