Never Turn Away Volunteer Plants

No gardener is perfect. Sometimes we make a mistake and forget to tend to our plants. While it can lead to epic failures, other times, it can lead to the surprising success of volunteer plants!

Have you ever left your garden unattended to go on a quick getaway by yourself, with your friends, or with your family? Maybe you want to be spontaneous and go on a trip on a whim, but in doing so, you forget to tend to your plants. When you come back, you get home to a major surprise. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. Or maybe you’ve had a few volunteer plants in the compost you didn’t notice until it was too late?

Nothing good ever happens if we stress over every little detail of our garden. A little chaos is good to add a bit of fun to our daily routine, and I personally love being surprised by my garden every now and again. I mean, not so much the weeds, but I do love a few volunteer plants, even if they’re silly little tomato plants growing out of the rocks, taller than my own darn hand-nurtured seedlings!

Right now I have a blanket of cucamelons that have dropped, and am dreading the army they’ll grow next season.

Yes, it can be a mess sometimes, but other times, it can be a magical experience. It’s really up to us how we perceive every gardening mishap. We can either see it as an epic fail… or look at the bright side and think of it as a surprising success (yes I’m going somewhere with this…)

This summer I left my garden for a month and came back to seedlings that had turned into full-grown fruiting plants! Sure, the cucumbers were the size of my arm, but I made lots of cucumber juice, and it was glorious.

In today’s story, you’ll get to meet an avid gardener who loves to grow winter squash. She tends to them regularly until one day, when it’s time for vacation, she leaves and comes home to a major surprise of volunteer plants. If you want to know what happens next, read “Blooper, Blooper” to find out.

For More Funny Mishaps…

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn gardening mishaps into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!

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Blooper, Blooper

By Joyce Angelus

I always grow a lot of winter squash here in Otter Lake, Quebec. I store them and eat them all Winter. Last Fall, I grew buttercups, butternuts, turbans, marrows, delicatas, dumplings, sunshines, and pumpkins. When they were ripe, I wheelbarrowed them to the house, cleaned them, and stored them.

There was also a strange squash of dubious parentage. It had pale flesh and green bar-code-like markings on its yellowish shell. What to do with them? I lined the driveway with them. My grandchildren played with them. And then I dug them into the garden.

This Spring I rototilled the entire garden and planted it. By July, all the vegetables, flowers, and herbs were growing full tilt, and we took our annual vacation to the family’s cottage. When I returned, the entire garden was covered—by squash leaves! My digging in and tillling up those outer-space squashes had spread them everywhere. What a blooper!

I spent days weeding them out. Even so, I let some vines near my garden’s borders grow into the yard: they looked kind of pretty. When Fall harvest time came, I found several of the renegade squash under the leaves. Again, I used them as decorations and let the grandkids play soccer with them.

By now, I felt some sympathy for the tough, if ugly, things, so I brought two in and stored them with my good squashes. Then one March day, out of curiosity, I decided to cut one open. It was a pumpkin! Oh, yes—it was one of the naked-seeded pumpkins I had planted the year before. I had totally forgotten about them.

I was amazed and embarrassed at the same time. Blooper Number Two.

By Joyce Angelus, published originally in 2019, in GreenPrints Issue #119. Illustrated by Marilynne Roach

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Do you have a fun story about volunteer plants? Did this remind you of a similar garden story you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it. 


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