Little Blue Self-sowers

Rodger Whitlock
Fri, 24 Mar 2006 17:19:19 PST
On 23 Mar 06 at 13:25, Jim McKenney wrote:

> ...It does take card of itself, and seeds around unobtrusively.

Here in Victoria, Chionodoxa something-or-other is a no uncommon feral plant growing 
in patches by the road where conditions are right. And in the garden it is something of 
a thug simply because it seeds so prolificly and spreads everywhere. Scilla bifolia is 
similar in its habits, but less anxious for lebensraum.

Under the right conditions a Victoria garden becomes sprinkled with blue dots during 
the early spring. This is entrancing, but there's a better way of dealing with these 
charming thuglets.

One problem in many plant collectors' gardens is that the visual appearance is of the 
dog's breakfast style: one each of a gazillion different plants. Myself, I've gradually 
become dissatisfied with this approach and over the years have (philosophically if not 
in practice) come to the p.o.v. that overall appearance *is* important and that the 
real challenge is to weave a collection of rarities and oddities into something that 
looks good on a large scale.

I've stumbled across several ways of approaching the ideal implicit in my remarks 

* use the same plant repeatedly in different parts of the garden to bind it together as 
a whole. I've done this with witchhazels; there's one border with seven or eight 
different cultivars, then another three or four spotted elsewhere to echo that main 

* plant largish groups of those few plants you really like and which you know how to 
propagate. I have a bed of Jeffersonia dubia, somewhere around ten plants. Usually you 
only see one plant of this. As a group, even if they don't exact overwhelm the viewer 
with a sense of transcendental ecstasy, they at least don't get lost in the shuffle.

* group scattered plants of the same sept into one area so they make a real show. And 
this brings me to chionodoxa, scilla bifolia, and any other little blue self-sowing 
blubs. My garden was sprinkled with these and all they did was annoy me because they 
kept turning up *everywhere*. Some ten or fifteen years ago, I started a concentration 
camp for them next to a parking area, and as I found them in flower, lifted them and 
moved them to their new site.

It took a few years to round them up, but the result was a bed about 25' long and of 
indeterminate depth, in an area where nothing else would grow and where you wouldn't 
want to risk anything of any real value. If a car backs up over that bed, it doesn't 
matter! If I pile leaves on it in the fall, it doesn't matter. Yet when that bed is 
in flower, as it is now, it's a stunner, a big, bold sweep of bright blue. Far better 
than the sprinkled approach imho (in my humble opinion). It's mostly chionodoxa, but 
there are some scilla bifolias in it.

I won't pretend that I don't have any stray little blue self-sowers. There are still a 
few and no matter how sedulously I round them up, a few more appear the next year. It
doesn't matter; like a dog's fleas, my stray little blue self-sowers take my mind off 
more depressing issues (in the case of the dog, that he's a dog) and keep me off the 
streets and out of trouble as I run around trying once again to dig them all up.

Best of all, I've converted a fairly common garden situation into something out of the 

It's a method I recommend for anything that tends to scatter itself about your garden.

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate

on beautiful Vancouver Island

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