Saturday, 1 July 2017

Favourite self-seeders

Camomile, a prolific self-seeder
The next best thing after perennial plants, in our opinion, is self-seeding annuals. For busy gardeners it's effective, convenient, effortless and very economical to let herbs and flowers seed themselves - you can always move them later or remove them if they threaten to take over. And if you want to be 100% sure of preserving the plants, collect some of the seeds (many of them are good for culinary use anyway) and sow them in late May in the rare event that no new seedlings have popped up. Here are some of our favourite plants that can be left to do their own thing:


We seem to get plants a lot earlier than if we sowed them ourselves. The self-sown camomile really gets going rather early in spring and it doesn't mind being transplanted.

Borage flower


A very vigorous self-seeder, borage is an all-round winner in the garden. Beloved by pollinators, with pretty, edible flowers, this nitrogen-fixer can be made into a fertiliser tea just like comfrey and, according to Bob Flowerdew, also makes an excellent green manure.


We let this go to seed anyway, to harvest dill seeds for use in pickles and bread, and it usually comes up the next year.


Much easier to let it self-seed in its second year than to start the seeds indoors in early spring.

Wild rocket, a welcome 'weed'

Salad leaves

Wild rocket is our favourite weed in the veg patch! We always let rocket flower in early spring when there's not much else around for the pollinators and as a bonus comes the vigorous self-seeding that follows. Land cress is a tasty salad crop that self-seeds everywhere but its tendencies do have to be curbed a little.


Coriander is probably the most annoying annual herb to grow. At least under our conditions, it goes to seed so quickly. No sooner are the first leaves out that you need to harvest and freeze away the excess before the plants go all feathery, then flower and go to seed. You might as well exploit that and let the plants seed more rather than having to sow a new batch every few weeks. We also collect some seeds for culinary use and these could be used to sow the following spring.

You only need to sow them once


Our favourite companion plant, nasturtiums are everywhere in the garden. We eat the young leaves and the flowers in salads and pickle the seeds for use on pizzas (and anywhere that capers would be used). Nasturtiums are also brilliant weed suppressing ground cover - we have them around the Jerusalem artichokes, under the bean poles, underneath hedges etc. and actively encourage them to spread into weedy areas across the fence.

Self-seeded calendula in the wildflower border


Another great all-round companion plant, calendula pops up early in the year when left to its own devices. We mainly use it to make herbal oil, which is then a key ingredient in lip balm, ointments and lotions. And hopefully soon in our own soap! It's also nice as part of a herbal tea mixture.

Pretty purple poppy


We have several kinds of poppies in the garden, including ones with edible seeds for baking. We always collect some seeds to spread them around further, but they do an admirable job of sowing themselves in their wildflower border where they are joined by campion, another lovely self-seeding wildflower.


Parsnip seed doesn't store long and is fickle to germinate. We leave a couple of plants in the soil over winter and let them go to seed in spring. We have been collecting the seed for planting the following spring, but the self-seeded plants have been so much earlier and more vigorous than our own efforts that we will simply let the parsnips seed themselves next year.

It's always a nice surprise to see the distinctive seedlings pop up in the spring. You can't mistake a little borage or nasturtium for anything else. Happy lazy gardening, everyone!


  1. What beauties! This is my favourite kind of gardening and I always think that if a plant has chosen to grow somewhere itself then it will probably do well there. Welsh poppies, foxgloves, poached egg plant and fennel have all been other rampant self-setters in our past gardens. . . and they've already made quite a start here!

    1. Yes, common fennel is a great plant to have around. We've even been eating the young shoots (as well as using the fronds, flowers and seeds) this year and I've decided it's not worth growing the Florence fennel when I can just use the ubiquitous common fennel for fennel flavour. Foxgloves would take over the garden here if they had it their way. I only leave very few. I grabbed some Welsh poppy seeds from our neighbour's poppies today after reading your comment. Unfortunately they haven't established themselves so far so they obviously need a helping hand.


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