Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Self-sowing greens a gift that just keeps giving

I may have discovered the secret of perpetual life, or close to it, horticultural style. In the fall of last year, I seeded a large pot with mizuna, a lacy Asian green vegetable that I relish for its lightly tart flavour.

The seeds germinated and the little plants were edging up to useable size when freezing weather arrived. At that point, I placed the pot in the unheated greenhouse.

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When growth resumed in early spring, I set the planting temporarily at a pathway edge across from the greenhouse. And there it sat, through the spring and summer, one in a crowd of neglected items as I dealt with an early April injury. The plants grew, developed flower stems, formed seeds and gradually died back. As the weather began cooling in late summer, I noticed that the pot was thick with fresh, bright green growth.

The old planting had dropped seeds onto the soil below that germinated as temperatures cooled and formed a mat of frilly green. I cleaned away the tattered remains of the parent plants that had bequeathed this lively bounty to me, and set the pot in full sun beside the greenhouse.

As so many self-sown plants do, the new generation of mizuna grew with marked vigour to provide me with many clippings of fresh, zesty greens for adding to salads.

Across the back garden, a similar story has unfolded over recent years in a large pot stationed next to the garden shed. Around eight years ago, I planted a Flower Carpet rose in the pot, where it has thrived and bloomed on long, arching canes through every summer since.

A few years ago I noticed that, somehow, miner’s lettuce had seeded itself under the rose. The little plants reseed and keep reappearing every spring. It’s very convenient. Because I cut the rose back in late winter, it’s clear harvesting of the young, succulent greens while the rose prepares to regrow.

Miner’s lettuce, a West Coast native plant, forms a low-growing mat of bright green, round, fleshy leaves that are juicy and sweet. The emergence of little white flowers from the centres of the leaves does not diminish the eating quality of the refreshing greens.

This perpetual regeneration happens also in the open garden. Two years ago, I seeded a small patch of miner’s lettuce in a back corner of the vegetable garden. The resulting plants were mediocre, but their self-sown progeny formed a thick and thriving mini-meadow of bright green early this fall in an adjacent empty area under a sprawling Cecile Brunner climbing rose. All through the autumn, I’ve been scissoring my way through the succulent green carpet.

Try it. For patches of tasty greens that pretty much take care of themselves, consider taking stock of containers on hand and corners and edges of the garden where a few seeds could be sown in early spring. Plants most likely to establish themselves easily by self-sowing include arugula, cilantro, dill, corn salad and parsley as well as miner’s lettuce and mizuna. Blends of green vegetables, called “mesclun” mixes, would be worth a try, too, along with leaf lettuces.

The next generation. Families with young children might wish to consider gifts to spark an interest in growing things — a children’s gardening book with both indoor and outdoor projects, tools, gloves or a packet of seeds with a pot and planting mix.

The seeds could be for a mixture of greens, a leaf lettuce, kale, basil, cilantro or some other easy-growing edible that a child could grow and cut for adding to a dinner salad.

Growing something tasty for family eating is bound to bring a child satisfaction and pride enough to initiate a desire to continue planting. Perhaps a little plot could be marked out for a child to plant a few favourite flowers and vegetables in the spring.

Potted herbs. There is no need to go without fresh, home-grown herbs over the winter. Many do well in pots at a bright window. I usually keep a pot of cilantro and another of basil on the go. The little plantings give me several cuttings before they need replacing with a freshly sown pot.

I use a pot around 15 centimetres wide. Seed onto a moistened, gently firmed down potting mix and cover with a scant layer of the mix. Cover the pot loosely with plastic and place it in a warm spot. With germination, move the pot to a bright location.

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