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marigold harlequin close

Let nature do the work for you

Buy one plant, get some free. “Who doesn’t love that?” asks Annie Hayes, owner of Annie’s Annuals. But there’s more to adore about self-sowing plants that return and multiply effortlessly season after season. “They pop up in the garden, like magic,” Hayes says. “They have natural grace and charm. They are profuse bloomers. And they’re so-o-o-o easy.”

Hayes is such a fan that she devotes one of the “Totally Useful Plant Lists” on her nursery’s website (anniesannuals.com) to the hundreds of “Easy Reseeders” she grows for mail order (888-266-4370) and retail sales at her Northern California nursery.

To enjoy their benefits, self-sowers must be allowed to set seed after they flower. “It’s an opportunity to see how pretty plants can be when they go to seed,” Hayes says. When the seeds ripen in their pods, they can be harvested and stored in an envelope for sowing in early winter. Or they can be left on the plant, where the pods will open and release them. “The seeds will start to germinate when the rains start,” Hayes says. “And when they sprout where they’ve landed and survive, you know that plant is really happy there.”

Here are some of Hayes’ favorite reseeders. Most are annuals, but in San Diego’s mild climate, some may overwinter to perform again next spring.

Agrostema githago: A cottage garden favorite with sprays of flowers in rosy pink (‘Milas’) or white (‘Ocean Pearls’). Fast-growing plants to 3 feet tall. “Girly and romantic — my favorite,” Hayes says.

Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate (Persicaria orientalis, formerly Polygonum orientale): Thomas Jefferson introduced this easy-breezy classic to the country. Prized for its heart-shaped leaves, arched stems and fuchsia flower tassels. Grows to 5 feet tall.

Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia amoena): A California native with 6-inch-wide clusters of cupped flowers in pink or lavender blotched with red. “Aurora’ has peach blooms; ‘Memoria’ white. Hummingbird favorite growing to 3 feet tall.

‘Lime Green’ Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata): Hummers zip to this fragrant perennial with glowing chartreuse, tubular flowers that “light up the garden,” Hayes says. “Plus, it harmonizes with everything.” Grows 3 feet tall and almost as wide. Provide partial shade inland.

Cosmos: New colors and flower forms have given this old-fashioned annual new life. Daisy-like flowers sway on 2- to 3-foot tall stems. Colors range from pink and creamy yellow to apricot and bold cranberry. Butterflies and bees love them.

‘Harlequin’ Marigold (Tagetes patula): “Eyes light up when they see these circus clown flowers,” Hayes says. “No one believes it’s a marigold.” Ferny foliage and gold-and-maroon-striped blooms on 3-foot-tall-and-wide plants. (pictured above)

Sticky Phacelia (Phacelia viscida): A striking wildflower native of San Diego County coastal scrub and chaparral. Gentian blue flowers with an intricately patterned white eye on multi-branching stems up to 3 feet high. “Heaven,” Hayes says, when paired with another county native: yellow-flowered sun cups (Camissonia bistorta).

Editor's note: The tiny hairs of Phacelia may cause skin irritation. Wear gloves when working around this plant.

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