I call them "amazing" because this bunch of plants has the ability to surprise and delight every year that they return to the garden! Self-sowing, or reseeding plants create seeds that re-emerge as plants year after year. Some gardeners refer to these plants as “volunteers” because they come back year after year with little to no intervention or planning.
They appear in the most magical places: the cracks of sidewalks, at the edge of cultivated garden beds, in compost piles and anywhere else they see fit to call home. These plants are resilient by nature, can live most anywhere, and can adapt to many kinds of environments. They are colorful, edible, medicinal, beautiful and useful. Reseeding plants provide habitat and food for bees, butterflies and birds. They provide restoration and renewal when they show up in a vacant lot. Self-sowing plants create a sustainability that humans can only dream of, as they by definition self sow, germinate, thrive, grow, flower, set seed, and then do it all over again! These lovely plants are life renewed, for generations upon generations, for all time to come.
In gardens that children play, grow and learn in, these plants provide a sense of wonder and imagination, magic and delight as they can be harvested, picked, touched and used for so many different things. Sprinkle the petals over snacks, create fairy, gnome or creature homes with the flowers, use Nasturtium leaves to drink water from or make a spicy pesto, delicately chew fennel blossoms for a taste of licorice, or eat a sweet viola blossom straight from the plant.
Unlike many other annual garden plants the trick to getting the most out of reseeding annuals is to let them go to seed. Let the plants continue to develop once the blooms have faded or the plants have “bolted” (when vegetable crops send up a stalk of flower & seed), allowing plants to complete their full cycle of life from seed to seed.
Once the seed has set you have some options. Let the seed follow its natural course falling from the plant to be re-sprouted the next year or save / disperse the seeds. Saving seed and storing them in handmade envelopes makes for a great gift or class micro business opportunity. Check out our resources on saving seeds and ideas for making your own seed envelopes www.lifelab.org/seed-saving.
You can also take the “lazy gardener” approach. Pull up a plant or cut off a stalk full of dry seeds taking care not to let the seeds spill from their husk or pod. Then drop or sprinkle the seeds in a new spot(s) you’d like the plant to sprout in the future. I often have kids pull up spent plants full of seeds, set the seedy stalk in a new space, and then jump on top of the plant, releasing the seeds. It isn’t an exact science, nor will you find this tip in Better Homes and Gardens, but it is fun and it works.
The following list is by no means the full list of plants that have the ability to self-sow, though they are the ones that I have experienced the magic of reseeding here in Santa Cruz, in our gardens…
- Bachelor’s Buttons petals
- Nasturtium whole plant
- Calendula petals
- Nigella seeds
- Chamomile flower tops for tea
- Fennel flowers and seeds
- Sunflowers seeds & petals
- Borage flowers
- Violas / Johnny Jump ups flowers
- Alpine Strawberries fruit
- Lettuce and other greens
- Amaranth pop seeds in a dry pan, eat like mini popcorn
- Queen Anne’s Lace
- Sweet Peas
- Cerinthe “Honeywort”
- Holly Hocks
- Fever Few