It made me think--where would we be without volunteers? In the United States, over 8 billion hours were contributed by volunteers in 2010 (the latest year for these statistics). Their service hours have been valued at almost $173 billion. No doubt, many important service agencies would not be able to exist without the help of volunteers.
We can also find volunteers in the garden as well. Though they may not be as significant or contribute to the well-being of society as human volunteers do, these volunteers often provide some unexpected beauty as well as a bonus to a gardener on a budget. This year has seen an outpouring of volunteer plants in my garden who deserve a little recognition.
There are always a few volunteers I can count on to re-appear every year. I haven't planted a cleome in several years, yet a few always manage to pop up every summer, usually in unexpected places. This one showed up at the front of the lily bed, not the best place for such a tall plant, but since the lilies behind it are pretty much done for the season, I've left it alone. Another cleome that was definitely out of place was moved to a more suitable location in the arbor bed. I've always thought that cleomes were fussy about being transplanted, but it has survived the move.
Rudbeckias are another faithful volunteer, but this one now flopping over in the lily bed, is different from any of the Rudbeckias I've actually planted. Not only that, but I have never planted any in this garden bed--I suspect the birds decided to do a little garden designing here.
Some plants are notorious self-seeders, so it is no wonder they come back to volunteer each year. One look at this nigella seedpod explains why I have a profusion of these every spring without lifting a finger.
Self-seeding volunteers are always appreciated, although sometimes they can get carried away with their exuberance. I've mentioned before the nicotania--seen here to the right of the transplanted cleome--which nearly took over my arbor bed. Since I had never grown nicotania until last year, I had no idea how much they re-seed themselves. Earlier, I dug up countless seedlings to give away, but I finally had to pull out at least half of the remaining plants. It's hard for me to pull out and actually throw away something that is blooming, especially such a long-lasting bloomer as this, but they were beginning to engulf some other special plants, so that I really had no choice.
Another first-time re-seeder is the cardinal vine. Last year I planted a few seeds given to me by friend Lisa and had planned to plant more this year to climb up one side of the arbor bench trellis. But before I had a chance to plant any, I noticed little seedlings everywhere around the bench. They seem undeterred by the hyacinth monster that is once again climbing the trellis and have branched out to wind around other plants nearby. I've had to curb their sprawling habits, but otherwise, they're staying put--the hummingbirds love this vine!
I can't blame the birds or anyone else, though, for the volunteers in my vegetable garden. Late last fall, I got rather lazy as I was cleaning up the many pumpkins my daughter decided to buy for Halloween. After carrying several loads to the compost pile, my arms were tired, so I just decided to throw the remaining ones on the vegetable garden, thinking they would add a few nutrients there. My husband warned me this was a mistake, but I said it was no big deal to pull out any volunteers that came up from the seeds. Ha! Famous last words:) If I hadn't pulled or hoed out so many seedlings, I could have had my own pumpkin patch this fall. Still, a few plants escaped the hoe, and I now have a few small pumpkins of unknown variety to intrigue the grandkids.
While it's not surprising to see the self-seeders reappear year after year, this year has seen a surprising number of volunteers, no doubt due to our mild winter. This mass of 'Victoria White' and Victoria Blue' Salvia farinacea all are volunteers! While I've had some 'Victorias' come back in the past, never have I had this many return. Like the nicotania, they've been more prolific than I wanted and I've had to dig up quite a few volunteers, but I was thrilled to see them. They saved me some money, since I had planned to buy two flats of these this spring, and the extras were easily transplanted in other areas.
My only complaint is that I wish more of the blues had returned to mix with the whites, but then beggars can't be choosy.
Another surprise in the arbor bed--this volunteer petunia. I'm scratching my head over this one--not only do petunias usually not survive our winters, I know I didn't plant a single petunia in this part of the garden last year.
One of the most pleasant surprises this year, though, has been this salvia. This spring I searched every nearby garden center for 'Black and Blue' salvia with no luck, until I finally found two half-dead plants at a small outlet where I purchased them for half-price. I thought my neglect in watering them gave them the final death blow, but they are recovering and starting to bloom. In the meantime, though, one day I noticed a volunteer plant in the middle of the lily bed--yes, it's a 'Black and Blue' that somehow survived the winter and is now twice as large as the ones planted this spring!
The unbearable heat we've had for most of the summer has kept me from keeping up with weeding in the garden. I had been looking at this "weed" for several weeks while watering the shade garden, fully intending to pull it out. I'm glad I never got around to it, because lo and behold, it started blooming this week! It certainly looks like some kind of phlox, but this one has me stumped even more than any of the other volunteers. There are no other pink phlox in my garden, and even if I had forgotten about planting one, I know I wouldn't have planted it in the shade garden. How this volunteer got here is a total mystery to me.
One of the joys of gardening is not knowing what each year will bring. The volunteers in my garden this season have certainly provided some pleasant surprises. What garden volunteers are you appreciating this year?