Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Volunteer Appreciation

Like millions of people across the globe, I have been enthralled by the Olympics this past week.  From the infectious smile of Gabby Douglas to the record-shattering accomplishments of Michael Phelps, the scenes from London have kept me glued to the TV set every evening.  While the athletes gain all the attention, it is all those who work behind the scenes who have made everything go smoothly, creating an event that Londoners--and all residents of the UK--can be proud of.  As I sat mesmerized by the Opening Ceremony, I was surprised to learn that many of the participants in this fascinating historical overview of the UK were actually volunteers.  In fact, up to 70,000 volunteers, called "Game Makers," have been involved in a wide variety of roles during the London Olympics.

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?


  1. Wow on Victoria salvia. It is gorgeous! Those are the kind of volunteers I like!

  2. What nice volunteers! I love all the salvia!

    I, too, have a couple pumpkin plants thanks to some composting of pumpkins last year. I am still waiting for some pumpkins from them, though. I also have lots of cosmos and forget-me-not seedlings that normally come up in unexpected places, so they are always a nice surprise. This year I've also had some verbena bonariensis that survived the heat and neglect and is now blooming. It's been a tough year on the plants!

  3. Cute post, Rose! Nice tie-in with the various types of "volunteers." I'm always amazed, too, when new plants make their way into my garden--both welcome ones and ones I'd rather stayed away. Nice Pumpkin!

  4. You have some really interesting volunteers. That phlox is lovely, and a black & blue sage that overwintered and popped up --- wow. I can't get them to grow when I buy them as full plants! And how did you get a pink petunia? Some strange things are happening in your garden : )

    I was so aggressive this spring mulching and pulling early weeds that I got no seedling nicotianas from last year's stand, except for one in the compost pile!

  5. Rose -- what a great collection of volunteers. I have Nicotiana...one came back (or reseeded). I bought some more, HOPING for them to reseed! Will be adding some Nigellas this year (or spring). I did have Cleome in VA and am not going to add it again...those stems are thorny.
    Might add the Victoria Blue again.. they are pretty reliable.
    beautiful gardens ma'm!

  6. I like your volunteers, Rose! What an interesting and fun post!

  7. I so appreciate the nicotiana that you gave me Rose. I hope it reseeds itself in my garden. I planted them in three different places hoping they would find one place to their liking.

    Black and Blue salvia overwintered itself here too. It spread out some too. I am so pleased about this because they don't sell this where I live. Tena gave me a start of it. last year.

    Cleomes come up out front all over the place. I just love the way they move around the garden.

    Let's hear a big cheer for volunteers.

  8. Hi Rose,
    70,000 volunteers helped to make the Olympics happen? Wow! That is an amazing amount to volunteer labour. I bet an entire staff is required to organize their efforts.
    Great post on garden volunteers. One volunteer I can usually count on for a bit of late summer color is calendula, yet this year I have very few. Hopefully, their numbers will spring back next year.

  9. Our community has many local volunteers to keep things humming, but the volunteers in my garden have not been as welcome. Squash coming up everywhere - even in the perennial border. How weird is that?

  10. Your pictures make me think that maybe I will actually want to go into the garden again next spring. For now, I'm just watering to save the trees. The weatherman says we'll get soaking rains on Thursday --can that be true?

  11. Being a gal from TN we love Volunteers! Go Vols. hee hee.... You have a great collection of volunteers and I envy you on the Nicotiana as i never have luck with it. Over the years I am getting better at pulling blooming saplings but it still hurts my soul a bit.... Enjoy your volunteer and mystery beauties...

  12. Goodness, I wish I got volunteers as stunning as those salvias! And you seem to have a better class of gardening birds than we do, mine seem to major on sycamore seedlings, which aren't as welcome as those rudbekias...

  13. Rose, I love your volunteers. Just love them. I also have a few surprises from last year that are still blooming! As beautiful as they are, I am hoping that our winter, spring and summer return to normal next year. xogail

  14. I am impressed with the Salvia. What a wonderful stand of blue and white. I like in your previous post the blue and white of the Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace. At this time of year they are so pretty in the fields.

  15. Tina, The Victorias are one of my favorite annual, and they last until frost, so I was happy to see so many return.

    Indie, I usually have pumpkins in my compost pile each year, too; I'm not sure if the ones in my vegetable garden will make it till Halloween, but they're fun to watch. Wish I had some verbena bonariensis volunteers! For some reason, I can't get that to grow here.

    Beth, I have plenty of the unwelcome volunteers,too:) But this year has been so unusual--I suspect a lot of plants survived the mild winter here.

    Laurrie, The phlox really has me scratching my head, and yes, I was thrilled about the 'Black and Blue'--definitely a first here in my zone 5b garden. Sometimes there is an advantage to procrastinating in the garden:)

    Janet, I don't know if nicotania usually re-seed themselves this much, or if the mild winter was the cause, but oh my, have I had a bunch! Victoria Blues are a staple in my garden every year.

    Beth, Thanks for visiting!

    Lisa, I'm so glad you're enjoying the nicotania I gave you; it has certainly survived the drought here. Wish I could say the same for the persicaria you gave me:( I planted it temporarily in the butterfly garden, which tends to get neglected. 'Caramel' Heuchera is doing great, though!

    Jennifer, I looked up the info on the Olympics volunteers after watching the opening ceremonies--if I heard correctly, the doctors and nurses in the hospital scene were all volunteers, real doctors and nurses. I thought that was pretty interesting.

  16. Pat, That's funny about your squash coming up everywhere:) Usually volunteers like that do better for me than ones I purposely plant in the veggie garden.

    Cassie, I certainly haven't been in the garden much recently either. Thunder rumbled all around us yesterday, but we only got a little rain. I have my fingers crossed for today.

    Skeeter, Around here orange is a popular color, too--but only if it is Illini orange:) I have trouble pulling out volunteers, too, which is why one area was nearly overtaken with nicotania:)

    Janet, The Victoria salvias are one of my favorites; I doubt I'll ever have this many volunteers again, unless we have another mild winter. I'm giving the credit to the birds on a few of these plants, because I certainly can't figure out how else they got where they are.

    Gail, I didn't mention, but I also have some plants that actually overwintered in pots outside--that never happens here! Yes, I'm hoping for a more normal year, too. We could actually use some snow this winter to help relieve the drought.

    Donna, Blue is my favorite color, especially paired with white, so I love any flowers of this color combo.

  17. I love the volunteer pumpkins! My favorite volunteers are columbine and purple hyssop.

  18. As you know, I'm sad I didn't have as many volunteers this year as usual. One comes to count on some of them, and it's disappointing when they don't show up!

    Yes, the cleome does seem to grow tallest and strongest in just the wrong places, and yes, it can be fussy about being transplanted. I once had a cherry tomato volunteer right next to the steps up to our porch, and I let it go, even though it eventually impeded our way to that porch. Another year, a petunia volunteered. It was seeded just inside some latticework at the base of our front porch, which it grew threw and wound around. The seed must have dropped from a hanging basket on the porch.

    Morning glories are good volunteers, too!

  19. Lots of beautiful volunteers in your garden, Rose! Love the delicate pink of that phlox. It's probably a cross between other phlox you have in your garden. Maybe the seeds were spread by birds, ants, or some other critter. However it got there, it sure is pretty.

  20. Dear Rose,
    I depend on the volunteers in my gardens!
    You have so many wonderful blooms. 99%
    of my gardens are dried up from the drought. We are in day 73 of the worst drought ever in my area...and so hot!
    Today we have a break...now for rain!
    I do water the butterflies host plants and my zinnias for nectar....
    The Olympics have been so fun...
    Yeah for volunteers and London. Fun post.
    Sherry, who dances with butterflies even in the drought

  21. Volunteering is amazing isnt it?

    Your flowers are lovely ...full of surprises:-)

  22. So many pretty volunteers. They have worked very hard for you Rose, just as our volunteers worked very hard at the Olympics. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it being not much of a fan of sport apart from tennis, but I found myself glued to the tv throughout. It was wonderful to have some decent weather for it too which just about managed to last until the end. Today and for the foreseeable future we have rain again :-(

    Your salvias are so pretty and the 'blue and black' is very striking. I love Nigella or Love-in-a-mist as I call it. My mother always had it in the garden but it has never done well in mine.

  23. If I'd been closer I'd have taken the nicotiana off your hands!

    And you've had more unwanted success with your pumpkins that we had with our deliberately planted squashes! What is your trick, rose?!

  24. Rose, I'd love more columbine volunteers, too! Hope all is well with you.

    Kimberley, This was the first time I ever had success in transplanting a cleome. That's why they're usually in strange places--I'm afraid to disturb them.

    Linda, I love this phlox, too; it's definitely the prettiest volunteer I have this year, however it got here.

    Sherry, I'm so sorry about the continued drought in your area. This week has been quite a change for us--cooler and a few very welcome rainshowers.

    Suburbia, Whenever I do some volunteer work, it always makes me feel good--I should do more. My volunteer flowers make me happy, too.

    Songbird, Everything about the Olympics was wonderful--even the weather cooperated! My favorite part was the "parachute jump" by the Queen, though--she's a good sport:)

    Liz, no trick to the pumpkins; the squash I planted isn't doing well either. You just never know what will happen in the garden. I gladly would have shared some of my nicotania with you!


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