by Charlene Burgi
Volunteers come in many forms. We often find cherry tomato seedlings sprouting up in our vegetable garden from last year’s crop, growing with reckless abandon. Sometimes we discover pumpkin or melon plants growing from our compost pile. Violets, snap dragons or impatiens are seen working their way up through crevices near their parent plant. These volunteers can be a welcome sight or considered a weed.
A weed, you say? I was taken aback the first time I heard that a weed is classified as any plant growing in an area where it is not welcome. Why would I not welcome these volunteers into my eclectic garden? The purple-leaf flowering plum planted years ago by the birds is now growing over the fence and looks spectacular with pink flowering Cecile Brunner roses entwined in its branches. The sight is breathtaking . . . until the petals of the roses and leaves of the tree descend into the swimming pool located below the tree’s canopy. Every year I tell myself that these are not the right plants for this space. The volunteer plum is a maintenance issue, but it stays as I reflect on the beauty it brings to the garden.
Volunteers in the garden can be found in yet another form. For example, Pacific Coast iris are native to Marin. If you hike along the coastal bluffs or in the district’s watershed right now, you will find beautiful wild iris growing in groves. The Marin iris is a wild hybrid that originated from three parent stocks that cross-pollinated by way of the wind, birds and bees. The stronger, more dominant plants took over and crowded out the older varieties. In essence, we can say these hybrids are mutated volunteers. They adapted to their existing growing conditions in the wild, yet can thrive in your garden if you give them proper care. Plant them in a semi shady location. They will appreciate slightly acidic soil with a lot of humus or peat added to keep the roots cool and well-drained. In other words, mirror their growing conditions in the wild. You will find they, too, may mutate and flower in shades different from what you originally planted. Perhaps you might want to experiment with some cross-pollination!
Since I am talking about volunteers, I would be remiss not to mention that our annual Eco Friendly Garden Tour on May 14 would not be possible without them. Like volunteer tomatoes and irises, tour volunteers will be welcome guests in a lovely garden. In exchange for three-and-a-half hours of meeting and greeting fellow garden lovers, volunteers will receive a beautifully designed t-shirt and a ticket for a friend. When not performing their assigned tasks, volunteers are free to visit other gardens on the tour. If helping out with this event is of interest to you, please call Wendy at (415) 945-1521.