The Volunteer Gravel State

August 17, 2009 007 (3)
Welcome to the Fairegarden. It is now late summer, and there have been some surprise guests that would like to meet you. If you would, please climb these steep homemade steps up to the middle terrace. Watch your step, it is easier if you take one step at a time for you will need to preserve your leg strength to last the whole tour, don’t use it all up at the beginning.

August 17, 2009 008 (2)
Here we are. You can catch your breath while the explanation is presented. There are two concrete swan planters that have been moved from the house in northeast Tennessee to Texas and back to southeast Tennessee. In the vehicles, not on a moving van. We are not quite that loose with the funds, contrary to popular belief. The hummingbird magnets planted in these swans are volunteers from the gravel paths around the knot garden.

August 17, 2009 013 (2)
For years we have tried to save seeds of certain colors of these Salvia coccineas. Starting them under lights in the greenhouse has produced next to zero results. The best plants come from this path around the quads and center quatrefoil. In the first year of its existence, the knot garden was planted with seeds brought from the Texas garden, where the S. coccinea was perennial along with seeding like the end of the world was near.

August 17, 2009 011 (2)August 17, 2009 015 (2)
Lesson learned in transplanting babies from the gravel to desired locations include: (1) do it while they are small, (2) as early as they can be handled while the weather is still cool and there is more frequent rain, (3) shade them with large leaves borrowed from maple trees or Heuchera ‘Brownie’ to keep them from drying up, and lastly (4) water well until you see new growth.
While all of these S. coccineas are lovely and favored by the hummers, the human garden resident prefers the black calyx to the green. For years we have been plucking the green ones from the growing area in the knot garden path to allow only the black to scatter seed. There has been some limited success in this endeavor.

August 17, 2009 016 (2)
Moving on to the paths behind the garage you will see the orange Cosmos ‘Cosmic Orange’ previously mentioned in another post that is the correct height in its second generation rather than its predecessor who was trying to make the team.

July 27, 2009 026 (2)
Continuing along the stony surface another plant that will only show up in the gravel comes into view. Talinum paniculatum, ‘Jewel Of Opar’ is much beloved for the golden spoon shaped foliage, tiny flowers and seed head balls.

August 2, 2009 016 (2)
With groans, creaks and grunts one must get down quite low to appreciate the finer points of beauty here. Obviously worth it. The common name of this plant is referenced in the brilliant Edgar Rice Burroughs book Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar. I believe that phrase is also is used in his Martian Tales books referring to the heroine, Martian princess Dejah Thoris’ beauty. Which came first, the book or the naming of the plant, is unknown. Anyone?

August 17, 2009 019 (2)
Following along the path we see that the little Nicotiana descendent of N. ‘Tinkerbelle’ has just begun to flower. This is yet another path only volunteer.

August 17, 2009 020 (2)
The offspring have lost the pink outer coloring of the named cultivar over the years and now sport solid celadon attire. This path was redone earlier and it was feared the seeds had been lost in the shuffle. Two plants have appeared, one in the gravel and one behind in the pine straw mulched path. It might be prudent to try once again to save and start seeds of this in the greenhouse, so as not to risk a total loss.

August 17, 2009 017 (2)
In the same area is a seedling that has been watched to see if identification could be ascertained. Now that the flowers have opened, detective work leads to a Veronica of some kind. Less blue than the V. spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ and S. ‘Royal Candles’ growing at the edge of the nearest bed, leaning toward a more purple hue. It will be protected from harm to see what the mature height will be. Do we dare move it into the Veronica bed?

July 30, 2009 030 (2)
Coming down from the hills to the area behind the main house we can see a little grass that appears sporadically every summer. It has been moved to a less traveled area with resulting death every single time, so it remains right smack dab in the middle of the most tread upon path just outside the back door to the mudroom. Does anyone recognize it? It has a fairy like presence and would be mass planted if only we could get it to survive in numbers to allow for seed retrieval.

August 17, 2009 026 (2)
The tour is nearly over, but there is one more volunteer that deserves to be pointed out before you are sent along your merry way. What is that you say, and why is it deserving? Does anyone know? No hands up to be called upon? After years of not being able to distinguish between the weed grasses so prevalent and the desirables, finally the defining feature of blue hue and narrow blade have revealed the baby forms of something quite special. These do transplant with success, it is reported happily.

September 29, 2008 029 (2)
This image from last fall shows what those little clumps will become. Muhlenbergia capillaris, muhly grass is on the cusp of blooming. A few little tufts of pink are showing in the segmented stems of a few already. September is the month of the muhly car stopping show along the driveway. Can’t wait.


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38 Responses to The Volunteer Gravel State

  1. Pam/Digging says:

    I can’t wait for the muhly car-stopping show either, Frances.

    Thanks Pam. It seems early to see the pink grass, but really is right on time, I guess. πŸ™‚

  2. commonweeder says:

    As I have said so often when walking in my garden Life Will Not Be Denied! I have tansy coming up through layers of cardboard and woodchips. Determined creature. On the other hand, this morning I just realized that Late Blight is in my garden and I have to pull up my beautiful tomato plants. Grrrrrrr.

    Hi Pat, sorry to hear about your blight. I love tansy though, but have to fear anything that comes up through cardboard! Yikes! πŸ™‚

  3. gittan says:

    Now I’ve walked the stairway to heaven!
    This post makes me wonder… why do we make flowerbeds? So many plants are showing in the paths and we all try to move them into the beds again with different results. Maby we should just listen to mother nature instead =) I’d love to see that muhly grass grow in my garden to / kram gittan

    Hi Gittan, thanks, sometimes it feels like heaven up there, sometimes not. HA Really, I should try sowing seeds directly into the gravel. I often think the results would be more succesful. I have had little luck collecting the muhly seed heads, and have just now figured out which grasses in the gravel they are. πŸ™‚
    Kram, Frances

  4. Randy says:

    What is the plant to the left of the β€˜Cosmic Orange’? I was just discussing it this weekend with my neighbor. Thank you for the lovely tour of your garden. πŸ™‚

    Hi Randy,my pleasure! Do you mean the little purple leaf? That is perilla frutescens, it has world domination in mind. πŸ™‚

  5. Janet says:

    Thanks for the lovely tour. I first heard of the Jewels of Opar this spring from another MG. What an interesting flower.
    I love the dark and light foliage on the steps (or rather in bewteen).
    Your Muhly Grass show is world renowned– can’t wait to see the full show.

    Thanks for those kind words, Janet. The steps look prettier in real life than any photos that have been taken, and a whole lot have been taken. That mix of plants, that planted themselves, I planted an assortment of thymes there! always amazes me. Jewel of Opar is really cool, why it doesn’t grow in the beds, only in the gravel is a mystery. We need a bed with a gravel mulch, it seems. πŸ™‚

  6. Brad B says:

    I really like the first photo. All of those colors and textures against the stone. I’m a big fan of plants growing in the paths, mother nature does not grow in lines and between fixed borders. Unfortunately the people I share the garden with do not. After my experiment with putting things strategically or not so strategically in the path two years ago, it’s mostly cleared. They did leave a volunteer tomato though that is producing amazing cherry tomatoes.

    Thanks Brad. The patchwork quilt that is the garden here has evolved over ten years of self sowing gone insane. What I planted, and the effort to keep it orderly have been tossed overboard. I can’t win this battle. I do try to keep the paths passable. Cherry tomatoes will grow anywhere, thank goodness. πŸ™‚

  7. Darla says:

    It’s all about location, location, location!

    Right you are, Darla! These seeds grow where they will do best, far be it from me to interfere. πŸ™‚

  8. VW says:

    The delights in your garden never seem to end – have you ever tried to number all the different plants you have in your yard? Looking forward to the muhly photos – VW

    Hi VW, thanks. HA I began this garden writing down every plant that was put in. It lasted a couple of years and those lists are still around here somewhere. I gave up at some point and now there is no going back to that method. It is a long term goal to have the known names of certain things as stand alone pages on the blog. So far there are deciduous azaleas and daylilies done. I have been trying to write down all the new things purchased on one page, or several, as opposed to having the purchases imbedded in the journal entries. That method has worked well to look up names. Once the years pile up, it might be more difficult to find the name of something, but without these lists, my brain cannot remember all that has come and gone here. I do love muhly time too. πŸ™‚

  9. That muhly is a showstopper. I remember it from an earlier post.

    Thanks Rob. In the fall, the muhly is in nearly every post. It blooms as the leaves turn colors and when there is little else blooming, allowing it to be the star.

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Well, I like the steps with their edges done with smooth river rocks. You have such sweet surprises in your gravel path. I hope to find something other than weeds in my gravel paths next year.

    Thanks Lisa. I wanted to dress up the plain old concrete. There are leaf patterns in there too, but you can hardly see them anymore. I think we should both scatter some seeds in our paths for next year. πŸ™‚

  11. Carol says:

    What a wonderful post… the idea of all volunteers… it is a great way to garden… to work with our garden, that has a hand in the composition of things. Love your salvia and the muhly grass is gorgeous… pink fountains… especially in your beautifully lit photo.

    Thanks Carol, going with the flow instead of against it is much less labor intensive! And I am running out of labor as the years roll along. πŸ™‚

  12. Gail says:

    Gentle Readers, I’ve walked those steps and can attest to the need to rest! I have the best memory of you and I sitting on a step while we talked non stop (who would possibly believe that) about all manner of things! The steps themselves are delight packed. I love this post! I recognize the grass from my yard… but can’t recall the name. I’ll have to think about it! Soon I shall have my own gravel bed…I wonder what will grow there?…if salvias, muhly grass, veronica, nicotiana or Jewels of Opar showed up I would be very happy! I promise to keep the Susans out of the gravel! gail

    Dear Gail, those were happy times. I remember well just where we were sitting. One nice thing about the steps being so steep is that they make nice benches too. I must come clean and admit to lots of weeding to let the desirables grow nicely in the gravel. Many other things want to grow there as well and must be pulled. Do you hear that violets???? Learning what the babies look like is key. I would be thrilled for some susans to show up in my gravel. Then I wouldn’t have to go buy them all the time! HA

  13. Sweet Bay says:

    It’s amazing what comes up in the gravel, isn’t it? And preferentially! Must be the worth and that the gravel traps moisture.

    I remember your pictures from spring of all of the volunteer Dianthus, which were lovely! Obviously the salvia loves the gravel too.

    Hi Sweet Bay, thanks. It is a nice growing environment in the gravel it seems. And like I was telling Gail, there is detail weeding done to allow the good guys room to grow early on. Staying on it makes life much easier. The paths are where the weeding must be kept up with or these little gems would not survive. Self sowing Dianthus was a very pleasant surprise. So much for deadheading!!! πŸ™‚

  14. Gail says:

    Frances, I will bring Susans when I visit! If they grow here…they will grow on the other side of the mountains. gail

    Thanks Gail. Maybe they could grow in the gravel then get transplanted where we want them. πŸ™‚

  15. Dave says:

    That muhly grass will put on quite a show! I’m hoping ours will too. I would love to have those volunteers in the garden!

    Hi Dave, thanks. I know yours will do well too. You have to be able to stand the way it looks into winter to get those seedlings, worth it!!! πŸ™‚

  16. I’m taking a page from your seed success book & sowing some new Alchemilla mollis seeds in my gravel area. I know they’ll do fine, as I found a handful of Alchemilla mollis volunteers there already. (Not that I know how they got there.)

    Hi MMD, happy blogaversary to you! Alchemilla sounds like a perfect candidate for such a sowing. Here’s to seeing them join in the dance at your lovely garden. πŸ™‚

  17. Siria says:

    Hi Frances~ I love your steps and all the beauty that grows around them. If I could get some nice volunteers to grow in my gravel path. I seem to only get ugly weeds!

    Hi Siria, thanks. I should have added the disclaimer that these paths are weeded regularly to allow the desirables to grow. If there was not brutal weeding to remove violets, clover and perilla, among others, these stars would not be able to shine. πŸ™‚

  18. tina says:

    I think your garden must be a nursery bed with all the volunteers you have. The gravel sure seems to help plants along. I am having tons of volunteers in my bricks. Who would have thought? Maybe the gravel keeps the moisture in well-better than mulch? Your steps look great and oh my on the moving of the swans!

    Thanks Tina. It is like a nursery when I am redoing a bed. I go shopping in the gravel. HA Good deal on your bricks being home to some free plants too. I believe you are right about the moisture. Those swans are quite heavy and the movers would have broken them for sure. They have a sentimental value to me. I was raised in a neighborhood called Swan Lake. πŸ™‚

  19. You always have something inspiring to show. πŸ™‚ Love the homemade steps. It’s something I’ve been thinking about… and I believe I’ll be doing this sometime before too long! (We do hypertufa Wednesday!!)

    I have stones between my raised beds and there are always escapees who think they’d like it better amongst them. Funny! πŸ™‚

    Thanks Shady, what a sweet thing to say! The steps were easier than the hypertufa, IMHO. We made forms from 2 x 4s. Be sure and use screws, not nails to hold them together at the ends. It makes taking the forms off much easier and then they can be reused. It is quite dry here and we think the gravel keeps the seeds moist until germination occurs better than in the beds. It also keeps the seeds from being eaten by hungry critters and birds. πŸ™‚

  20. Great place to raise plant kids! πŸ™‚ I love all the plants tucked into the risers on your stone steps. Very clever! You do live in a different garden universe from me! LOL


    Hi Cameron, thanks. The step riser were originally planted with various creeping thymes and looked really good, and neat and orderly. Over the years these other ground covers and strays have taken over. I like it too. In my universe, I am so not in charge. HA πŸ™‚

  21. Catherine says:

    First of all I just love the stairs and the mix of plants and colors!
    What fun volunteers you have! It’s always interesting to see how the volunteers will pick such funny places when we spend so much time finding what we think is just the perfect spot for a seed and then it doesn’t grow.

    Thanks Catherine. This is the best the stairs have ever looked, including when they were first planted with the thymes. The other things have filled in enough to help keep most weeds out. As for the seeds, when I try to sprinkle some in the beds, it is usually a failure on a grand level. Then I’ll notice some that might have been spilled in the gravel doing great. So funny! πŸ™‚

  22. lotusleaf says:

    Interesting tour of the gravel path.I like your beautiful photos- They are like poetry. Your comments are eqally poetic. The salvia and the cosmos are wild flowers which grow in all nooks and crannies here.

    Thanks Lotusleaf for coming on the tour. Such sweet words you write, glad you like to visit here. That is wonderful about your volunteer state as well. πŸ™‚

  23. autumnbelle says:

    Frances, even the grass look very pretty in you garden and from your camera lens! Wow.

    Thanks Autumnbelle. The gravel is very photogenic. Knowing that the grass is muhly makes it really pretty too. πŸ™‚

  24. I’m so impressed Frances! I’m now back on solid ground again and this morning I’m enjoying ‘walks’ in all the bloggers gardens, truely wonderful. Soon I’m going to clear up my garden that has run wild during my absence.
    To walk trough your garden is a pure joy, love every secund of it.

    xoxo Tyra

    Welcome back, Tyra and thanks. Our gardens do get out of control when we are away. Have fun getting close and personal with yours once again. πŸ™‚

  25. Shirl says:

    Very nice indeed Frances, but I LOVE, LOVE the planting up your steps… that beats all the blooms for me! Have a great week πŸ˜€

    Hi Shirl, thanks, so nice to see you. I love the steps too, but those are not my plantings. I planted various creeping thymes. A little bit can be seen at the top of the riser on the bottom step. The ajuga, creeping jenny, cerastium and euphorbia had other ideas! HA πŸ™‚

  26. Sometimes I read things wrong–by the title, I thought you meant you;’d found some great way for gravel to multiply itself, which is of great interest to someone with a gravel driveway from which gravel seems to mysteriously disappear! But of course, that’s not what you meant–it IS amazing what all grows in gravel and glad you found optimal ways to transplant different things. πŸ™‚

    Hi Monica, that would be something, gravel that makes more, not disappears. Our paths get ground down into the soil too. Before we had the driveway paved, much dollars that, it would wash down into the street and the city would leave me rude notes about it being a hazard. I would get out there and shovel it after every gullywasher too. I called and complained about how hard I worked to keep it out of the street and the head guy promised to build curbs along our property when we got it paved. We did and they did, so it worked out well. The volunteers in the paths are so welcome. We do a lot of weeding to allow the good guys to grow on however. Knowing what is what helps too. πŸ™‚

  27. Really cute idea for a post. It is amazing what comes up in the gravel. I wish mine didn’t harbor Bermuda grass a lot of the time. Last weekend, I torched a bunch of it and it was good therapy.~~Dee

    Thanks Dee, glad you liked it. We have some bermuda grass here and it is surely the biggest pain to get out of the paths. So is clover. And violets. And garlic chives. The list goes on. πŸ™‚

  28. Jake says:

    Everything looks nice as usual! I can’t wait to see pictures of your Muhly Grass. That has probably been the best plant I have found in FL. I wish they sold it in nurseries because I would buy one or two.


    Thanks Jake. The muhly is looking good so far. It promises to be a good year for there has been extra water from the sky this summer. Lots of little bits showing on many of the clumps already. I am surprised that plant is not sold in nurseries in Florida. Maybe when it comes into bloom it will be offered. πŸ™‚

    • Jake says:

      That is true; I didn’t look for it in the fall last year.


      Good luck, Jake! Hope you can find some. It is easily divided to make more. That is how we came to have so much here. But do the dividing in spring, not now! (When one wants to do it since it looks so pretty :-))

  29. I have a gravel path and I can testify to how wonderfully things do well there. Unfortunately, many of these things are noxious weeds so I do a lot of weed pulling.

    Isn’t it funny how you will try and try to get something to grow, giving it TLC in a greenhouse or pot, but if you just let the seeds fall and germinate where they want to, you get success. I believe this could be a corollary of Murphy’s Law.

    And you’d better believe Frances on that one! I transplanted some of the perilla into my herb garden one year and I was SO happy when it did well. Now I am trying hard to get rid of it and keeping it at bay unsuccessfully. Word domination indeed. Try Master of the Universe.

    Hi Hands, thanks for clearing up the laws of the universe about seeds growing where THEY want to not where YOU want them to. I also do more weeding in the gravel paths than in the beds. I am hoping one day that there will be no weed seeds left in the gravel, only desirables. HA Not counting the perilla. I do leave some of it to set seed, pulling most of it. If left to its own, we would not be able to walk any of the paths at all. πŸ™‚

  30. TC says:

    Felder Rushing gave me some seeds from β€˜Jewel Of Opar’ once many years ago. They never germinated. I think he’s a bad seed himself, and therefore his seeds by association. You have many things that “come back” there which would never do so here. Lucky southern gardener that you are. ;~)

    Hi TC, thanks for dropping by. Poor Felder, not really a bad seed, and the Jewels are certainly not. I cannot get them to germinate in the flower beds. They only grow in the gravel, even if I throw the seeds into the beds as they ripen. Sometimes they are late to show and I am afraid they have been lost forever, or until I buy more plants. Try sowing your annuals in gravel. It might not be the PA cold that is stopping yours from self sowing. πŸ™‚

  31. Jeannie says:

    I had a hard time venturing past the home-made steps. Couldn’t we just stop a bit and talk about how you made them????? Jeannie
    (beautiful pictures…thank you!)

    Hi Jeanie, thanks. There has been interest in the steps, enough that there might have to be a how to post about them. πŸ™‚

  32. RobinL says:

    I’ve been thinking about your pink muhly grass too, and can’t wait to see it. I passed a lovely weed field that was full of a similiar pink/purple blooming grass, and it was very pleasing inded. That’s what made me think of you!

    Thanks for those sweet thoughts, Robin! I have seen those fields here as well, and my husband even wondered if that was muhly grass. There is beauty all around us, even in the lowliest weed. πŸ™‚

  33. Beckie says:

    Oh Frances, to have a gravel garden like yours!!! I like your reference and tie in with the volunteers-cute. You always come up with neat twists.

    I wish I knew what the fairy grass was-it is so delicate and would look great in a mass planting amoung a grouping of something with tiny flowers.

    Thanks for a delightful tour.

    Thanks Beckie, you are too kind. Your own garden is a delight, and even more so because you made it yourself. Mine has been years in the making, and I work many many hours in it every day that I can. I love doing so and still have tons of ideas to make it better. It is the journey, not the destination! As for the little grass, maybe seeds can be saved this time. I haven’t tried that before. πŸ™‚

  34. Kathleen says:

    Interesting how a gravel pathway is the perfect seed nursery isn’t it? I have the same luck with my gravel walk. It surprises me with all variety of plants, different from year to year. This year lime green nicotiana sprouted along with bleeding hearts, calibrachoa (sp?), agastache, violas and campanula punctatas. Remember how I was struggling to get primula veris to germinate? I started thinking I should just sprinkle seeds in the gravel! Luckily, I finally had success without resorting to that method but still, I think it may have worked. I overwintered salvia coccinea here last winter but it was milder than normal. In a usual year, I lose it and have to count on it reseeding or buying new. I love talinum too although I don’t know the answer to your question. This year I only have one plant in a container but you’re right, it’s worth a stoop down to appreciate it’s delicate beauty.

    Hi Kathleen, thanks. The nicotiana is one of the highlights of the gravel, never showing up in the beds even if I save seed and sow it there. I do wish we could grow agastache here, only the anise hyssop seems to survive the wet winters. I am happy to hear of your success with the primula too. Hooray!

  35. chuck b. says:

    I’m hypnotized and rendered speechless by the color contrast in your first picture of the steps.

    Thanks Chuck, you are too funny. I particularly like that second step too. I had nothing to do with it though, my plantings on the step risers were various creeping thymes. They were gradually taken over by the groundcovers from the surrounding beds. Nature is the best planter! πŸ™‚

  36. Nicole says:

    Oh my, you have quite an enviable cast of volunteers. I hope to try this gravel thing in my new garden. My volunteers this year have been arugula, amaranth, purslane, kalanchoe bloss. in red and yellow and a grass (unknown) the original plant of which I dug up from the roadside ( there were loads and it was self seeded, not planted there) I want that muhly grass!

    Thanks, Nicole. It sounds like you have an excellent group of volunteers too, love the kalanchoes. I would think the muhly would do well in your climate. πŸ™‚

  37. Elise says:

    Hello, I wanted to leave you a comment to say that I absolutely love your blog. I’ve so enjoyed looking at your pictures too. Everything is really interesting and well written.

    Thanks so much for sharing and best wishes..

    Thanks Elise, and welcome.

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