I have some of the nicest volunteers in my garden. Some of them have been people, many of them are plants, and one of my favorites – among the plants, that is – is columbine. Years ago, I planted some native columbines, those dainty plants whose orange and yellow flowers hover on thin stalks above their ferny foliage. Since being planted, these wildings self-seed – volunteer, that is — every year in various nooks and crannies around my yard, such as in the thin crevice of soil between my bluestone front path and the adjacent stone wall.
I once also planted cultivated columbines, the common McKana Giants, and their offspring have been volunteering around the yard as well. Flowers and foliage of these more cultivated sorts are similar to the natives, just bigger in all respects, which is not necessarily better. Or worse. Just different.
I’m always on the lookout for volunteers in my garden, whether they’re people, fungi, plants, or any other organisms. The relationship is usually symbiotic. Human volunteers gain some knowledge and experience; I get some help in my ever-growing farmden. Fungal volunteers work with my plants, drinking in some of the sugars and other goodies plants produce. In return, the fungi protect plants agains certain pests and, in the case of mycorrhizal fungi, fungal threads ramifying through the soil act like extensions of plants’ roots so plants can absorb more nutrients.
But what do plant volunteers get out of our arrangement? Plant volunteers usually arrive in droves so only some can stay. Those that stay get to enjoy especially good growing conditions.
Which brings me to celery. For the past few years, I’ve allowed celery in the greenhouse to go to seed each fall. The seeds drop and, within …