Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Being a part of a community gardening community, we are always looking for volunteers ..volunteers to weed, water and share gardening wisdom.
But there’s another kind of garden volunteer that is equally welcomed. It’s a volunteer beneficial plant that shows up unexpectedly.
This year, two new volunteer plants showed up in my raised bed ..a sunflower and some milkweed plants.
Both are high on the list as pollinator plants attracting bees and butterflies. In fact, the endangered Monarch butterfly needs the milkweed plant to survive . Both appeared next to a sage plant to form a kind of triple pollinator grouping.
While some people plant herb gardens, or cottage gardens, or cut-flower gardens, I am focusing on growing a pollinator garden, with special attention to attracting native bees. A little research revealed that bees are attracted to yellow, purple, blue and white flowers and ironically, they are my favorites also. So herbs and flowers with these colors are being seeded. Vegetables like lettuce and arugula are being allowed to bolt, producing small yellow and white flowers that are already attracting bees. Even the parsley is doing its bit.
In the last few years, our entire community garden has focused on planting for pollinators. Dozens of milkweed now grow along the garden edges. That is probably how a milkweed seed found its way into my garden bed. More and more native plants are arriving and can be found among the herbs and vegetables. I recently spotted Joe Pye weed, yucca, coreopsis, and spiderwort to name a few.
One native plant that has arrived and is not entirely welcome is mint. It has invaded just about every raised bed in the community garden and is capable of choking out just about everything it touches. Pulling it out is difficult as it has long roots and even a piece of root that is not removed, can produce another plant. So if you love mint, plant it in a container and bury it in the garden so it’s roots can’t spread.
Finally, I can’t leave the subject of volunteer plants without mentioning lambs quarters. For years, it has unfailingly appeared as a volunteer in my garden each spring. It is edible and nutritional as well as tasty. It is one of the first spring greens to bless my plate. And while milkweed and sunflowers are showy and capture most people’s eye, the diminutive lambs quarters is also a welcome volunteer.