Seeds are expensive to buy, and some vegetable and flower varieties contain only twenty or fewer seeds per pack. You sow them and, even if most germinate, by the time the snails, caterpillars, rats, mice, possums and birds have taken a nibble, there might not be much left for you! Yes, there’s a reason nature produce seeds numbered in the hundreds or even thousands per plant!
I use snail pellets sparingly to help, but recently I’ve tried 5mm mesh covers as a physical barrier to protect seedlings as they emerge and develop enough size to withstand the odd visitor. 5 mm is sufficiently small to thwart butterflies and all but the smallest snails, though I guess slugs and whitefly could get through. The mesh covers take just 5 minutes to make using wire cutters and a couple of twists of tie wire. I peg the mesh cloches down firmly with weed mat pins. So far, they’ve been very effective.
Of course, in these early years of establishing the garden, I’m still buying seed and seedlings because there’s simply too much else to do in terms of installing irrigation, constructing beds and improving soil. But do I have to buy seed forever? Nope, not if I choose open-pollinated varieties (F1 hybrid seed, however, must be bought anew every year)
I recently described how my herbs and vegies are left to flower and go to seed for beneficial insects … but there’s another reason. The chooks get some of the spent vegies, but the messy-looking piles scattered about the garden in late summer are senescent kale, sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, perpetual spinach, rocket, coriander, lettuce, dill, borage and parsley.
I pull the dry seeding plants out of the ground and walk around the garden, bashing the heads against the ground so every bed gets a sprinkling of seed. More than a sprinkling, actually: thousands of seeds!
In fact, so many seeds over such a large area I don’t bother with snail pellets or any other pesticides. I throw what’s left of the plant in an area of the garden that hasn’t yet been developed, so the remaining seed can fall there.
By autumn, the spring mulch of pea straw has thinned and I add little when renewing beds with compost in late summer ready for the winter vegies, creating enough bare soil for seeds. After the big rain in February (more than 100mm in two days!) plus subsequent light sprinkles from the hose, all of the above plants are germinating (well, Brussels sprouts and/or broccoli, I can’t yet tell the difference!). What’s more, they’ll germinate in the sites that suit them well; some will die but the ones that grow to maturity and seed will be in the spots that suit them best.
Over many seasons, natural selection for the microclimate of my garden means that plant health should improve (selection is also why it’s a good idea to spread seed of the last plant to bolt to seed, not the first). And finally, this method is especially good for seeds with a short viability (shelf life), like lettuce.
So I have plants popping up not just in the beds, but in paths and in the dry stone walls and around the chook run. Fantastic!
Perhaps the clearest indication of how plants have naturalised in my garden is the Granny’s Bonnets, Aquilegia vulgaris. I began with one dark maroon one in 1990, then shortly afterwards added a single white, a blue and a double Nora Barlow. Aquilegias hybridise readily so, after more than two decades, a rainbow of single, double and semi-doubles in blue, mauve, purple, white, pink, pale blue and bicolour forms graces the sheltered parts of the old garden*. It’s always incredibly exciting when they come into flower, because every year I find a new flower form or colour combination! [As you’ll see in this slide show]
While rummaging through my seed box last week, I also discovered some beautiful “Peony” poppy seed in cerise, purple and mauve, purchased at some garden show many years ago. Hopefully some is still viable: half sown into trays, the rest scattered around the garden: if I’m lucky, they’ll naturalise also!
*Shameless plug to Adelaide Hills gardeners: this year I collected Aquilegia seed for the first time and am selling it direct to customers only (strictly No Mail Order) at my place of work, Crafers Garden Centre. Pop in and grab some when you get your winter veg and sweet peas!