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Serendipitous Gardening

By Fred Birdsall, Master Gardener with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

Part of the fun of gardening is in the planning. In your mind's eye, you see glorious plants in bloom right where you thought they'd look best. Alas, nature does not always agree with your plans and sometimes substitutes her judgment for yours.

I remember when I planted some California poppies in a spot where I thought they'd look nice. A few plants came up, but not what you'd call a healthy stand. The next spring, however, little California poppy seedlings appeared in another location, maybe 15 feet from the original bed, where the seed had been wind-blown. I don't know what they found so attractive in the new location -the soil, the exposure, the watering - but whatever it was, they clearly preferred it and expressed their pleasure by producing a magnificent stand of `volunteer' poppies in the new location. They, not I, had chosen the best location.

Several years ago I planted a large front yard slope with wildflowers, using wildflower sod. This is a commercial sod seeded with 19 varieties of Colorado wildflowers. The seeds are selected not only to provide blooming succession throughout the season but also to provide plant varieties which favor a variety of environments.

Even though my front yard appeared to be fairly uniform to me, there was enough climatic and soil variation to cause some species to flourish in one area and others in another area, particularly after the second and third years. It was a good laboratory experiment and good illustration of nature's selective process in finding the best location for each plant type.

Gardening by serendipity is a wise alternative in seeking to work in best harmony with nature. Rare indeed is the totally uniform garden plot. Usually there are subtle environmental variations from one place to another. And, goodness knows, Colorado summers from one year to another offer variety. 

Plants will selectively choose the soil and microclimate they like best. My reaction as a gardener is to experiment. I try to give my garden several choices and let nature make the final decisions.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010