Tuesday, September 20, 2005

In praise of volunteers

The plant kind. Of course the people kind are wonderful, giving of themselves selflessly and helping others in times of need. But here I'm refering to the plant kind. Volunteers are those little trees and shrubs and others that pop up, on their own, in unexpected places. I was puttering in the yard yesterday and was just amazed at the number of 'volunteers' that I saw. Silver Maples don't count. They are downright promiscuous in their production of offspring. A Silver Maple is a veritable Red Cross of tree volunteers. They sprout everywhere...flowerbeds, gutters, gravel driveways, cracks in cement, between bricks etc. I expect to see and pull those whenever I come across them. I'm talking about the unexpected volunteers. Sometimes I don't even know where they come from. For species that don't appear in our yard, I suspect that seeds are carried in by birds and other animals in their droppings or attached to their coats. A sassafras tree is growing in our wood lot, and there are no such trees anywhere near that I know of. A Redbud is growing in the middle of one of my flowerbeds. I will let him go until Spring, and will wither pot him up and sell him or move him to a somewhat more suitable location. We have one Redbud that covers itself with magenta blooms, prior to leaf-out every spring, and when the sun shines on it, it is breathtaking. Two Redbuds is even better. I notice very small cedar trees here and there, only about 4 or 5 inches high. We have several cedars that form a wind break to the rear of the yard, protecting our little house in the winter from the fierce winds that roar across the barren fields. The places that their progeny grow always suprises me though. I left two plastic pots outside over the first winter after we moved in. The next fall two adorably tiny cedar trees started growing in those pots...right in the very center. If one looks up serendipity in the dictionary, surely there is a picture of these two tiny volunteers growing in the neglected pots to illustrate the meaning. Mulberrys seem to grow anywhere and they are a little licentious in their spreading, although not near as bad as Silver Maples. I let more of them grow than I should, but the birds love them and they are an attractive tree. Occasionally a Tulip Poplar will pop up, but they always seem to do so in very tight cracks where I can't successfully dig them out to transplant, so I have to just yank them. I was pleased to see Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia, isn't that a great latin name?) growing in the wood lot when we first moved here. It is a respectful climber, never throttling it's host, a slow grower, valuable wildlife plant, and turns a beautiful crimson in the fall. It must have sensed my appreciation, because now I am finding it everywhere, and I must admit, my patience is wearing thin. I haven't yanked any yet, but it is getting like a houseguest that has overstayed it's welcome. I probably should be more diligent in discouraging these volunteers. The garden was pretty messy this year because I couldn't bear to pull any tomatoes or squash that came up on their own, and there were a lot of them. Small gourds grew with abandon, twining up and over whatever was in their path. I didn't get too many gourds though, because a transient groundhog with a fondness for squash moved in the end of July and ate most of them. Sunflowers too I can't bear to remove. They make it difficult to move about in there when they get to 7 or 8 feet tall, but then when you see them in the late summer covered with goldfinches which are hanging upside down, tugging at the newly ripe seed, I remember why I left those sunflowers keep growing and I am thankful for my volunteers.


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