In the Garden:
Lower South
April, 2012
Regional Report

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This corn poppy grew from a wayfaring seed that found a small crack where it could send down roots.

The Bane and Blessing of Wayfaring Plants

I've been struck on many occasions how plants have a way of deciding where they are going to grow despite the intentions of the gardener. Sometimes this presents a problem, such as when an "overenthusiastic" plant begins to take over. Other times it is simply a whimsical surprise to see something pop up in a garden bed or other strange location, apparently just "out of the blue".

Among the overenthusiastic plants are those that spread by runners and rhizomes. Take our southern turf species for example. They clearly do not understand horticulture design principles at all! We want a turfgrass that can be plugged 18 inches apart and then grow like crazy to fill in and form a dense lawn in the course of a month (good luck with that by the way).

We also would appreciate it if, when the turf reaches a sidewalk, it would know to not grow across the line, forcing us to use our edger, to maintain proper order, of course. When it reaches a flower bed the same is true. Will someone please explain this to bermudagrass! While you are at it please have a talk with mint too. Speaking of talking to plants, my "obedient" plant is anything but obedient, having heard many demands, commands, and pleas on my part to stay in the same place only to continue its subterranean invasion.

Another group of plants that have no sense of design or their appointed place in the landscape are reseeding plants. I appreciate a tidy reseeder that casts a few seeds to keep my flower beds coming back each year. These seem to be the exception since many other reseeding plants cast out a million seeds, all of which seem to come up!

For those readers who are new to gardening, here's a little helpful information. The word "reseeds" comes from a Latin word that means "Buy a hoe when you purchase this package of seed." That lovely heat and drought tolerant plant called Mexican petunia is an example of an aggressive reseeder. I planted some in a flower bed by a sidewalk. Through a devious plan involving propelling seed some distance and rainfall washing it along, the next season Mexican petunia seedlings appeared in a bed 20 feet down the sidewalk!

Tropical milkweed uses the wind to expand its range. Like paratroopers landing behind the lines at Normandy my tropical milkweed launched an air and ground attack on an unsuspecting flower bed of plants.

Now I must say that despite feeling some annoyance with these and other reseeders, I like these plants and continue to want them in my garden. I just have to remember at weeding time that a weed is simply a plant out of place, and provide them the same fate of my other weeds.

Such plants are among the most hardy and dependable plants in my gardens. During times of drought, brutal heat, or other challenges, these wayfaring plants can be counted on to be there year after year.

While such plants can certainly wear our their welcome, I find it interesting where such plants often end up. Have you ever purchased a plant and had something come up in the container that turned out to be another garden plant? Several times I've been asked to identify a plant in someone's yard that turned out to be an ornamental landscape plant. The gardener swore they didn't plant it but that it "just came up there".

Driving down the street one day I caught a flash of color out of the corner of my eye. It was a corn poppy that had sprouted up against a stop sign surrounded by the streets, curbs, and sidewalks with no flower garden in a hundred yards. People passing by were fascinated by this lone flower juxtaposed against its urban setting where it had found a tiny bit of soil that man had not completely blanketed with asphalt and concrete. I admired its courage, and appreciated the visual contraction it created.

The thought has crossed my mind to be a "Johnny Flowerseed" and go about with a pocket of various seeds, adding a little beauty and interest to downtown concrete jungles whenever I'm passing through.

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