According to Wikipedia, the word volunteer may have several different unrelated meanings. It can refer to volunteerism, which is the practice of people working on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain. That’s something I enjoy doing. It can refer to a military volunteer, one who freely signs up for military service as opposed to being drafted. That is something I did not do, as Vietnam was not a place I cared to visit in the 1970’s.
To a child of the 60’s and 70’s like me, it can also be the name of a Jefferson Airplane album and song by the same name. “One generation got old, one generation got sold, one generation got no destination to hold…got a revolution got to revolution”. 40-something years later after first hearing that song, and especially when my back is aching after a day in the garden, I feel like it’s my generation now got old!
To a gardener, a volunteer is a seedling or plant that comes up on its own, instead of being purposely sown there. I look around and we got volunteers everywhere here at Happy Acres.
Last year when I dug potatoes I missed a lot. I got a surprise harvest of quite a few when I turned over the soil in that bed. But I guessed I missed more than I thought, because this spring there’s a dozen or more potato pieces that are sprouting everywhere in that bed! “Can’t you just let then grow?”, my wife asked. Well, I could, but they’re right where I want to put some tomato plants this year.
And speaking of tomato plants, where I had cherry tomatoes growing last year I planted a bed of kohlrabi and radicchio this year. Guess what’s coming up there. Yep, lots of little tomato seedlings! We definitely don’t want those growing there.
Some volunteers aren’t unwelcome at all. We’ve had Sweet Annie (Artemisia Annua) volunteering around the yard ever since we moved in. This year, with our giant elm gone, they’re getting more sun and there’s more volunteers than usual. We’ll let some of these grow, but even if we don’t, there’s likely enough seed in the soil to last for many years.
Our coneflowers make volunteers too if we don’t deadhead the flowers and keep them from going to seed. A few extra coneflowers isn’t a bad thing though.
Some volunteers are really pests. I let some lemon balm go to seed in the herb garden a couple of year ago and I’ve been paying the price ever since. Volunteers are everywhere! My wife will dig up some of these and donate them to the MG plant sale coming up. Too much lemon balm is NOT a good thing! Garlic chives are also coming up in that bed, but I think they are under control. I think. Hopefully they are!
One volunteer that is really not welcome here is poison ivy. “Leaves of three, let it be” is our motto, or else we’ll be singing “gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion”! Note to self: tell wife I found the PI in the Rose of Sharon hedge. She’ll want to avoid that for sure!
Its similar looking but benign cousin Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is also in the Rose of Sharon hedge. I don’t think it’s going to help the hedge any, so it needs to go too. Even if it does have five leaves!
With all these volunteers coming up, perhaps I need to volunteer to do some cleanup work. Since my wife is a lot more sensitive to it than I am, I get to do most of the poison ivy eradication. I do wish the birds would do their part and volunteer to quit dropping the seeds all over the place!
My wish for you today is that all your garden volunteers be welcome, and not pesky or pests!