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Undersown Garlic

Happy accidents

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A crop of self-sown salad leaves in JUSTIN RUSSELL's garlic patch has him reflecting on happy accidents in the garden.

I planted my garlic in late April, ensuring I completed my usual routine of recharging the soil with compost to drip feed nutrients to the plants over their long growing season. Within a couple of weeks of planting nearly all the cloves had sprouted lovely green leaves and were powering away. But unlike previous years, the garlic had company. 

A mass of seedlings had germinated in the garlic beds, and they too were powering away. There was coriander, oak leaf lettuces, and coral-like Ruby Streaks mustard. I hadn’t deliberately sown them. They were a happy accident, and considering we supply gourmet salad mixes to our local cafe, a very welcome addition to our autumn selection of greens. We’ve now been harvesting them for three weeks. 

The moral of the story is simple: Don’t be a gardening control freak. I’m not sure how the seeds got into the soil. Maybe we accidentally put some mature seed heads onto our compost heap, maybe some plants self seeded in the beds before we had a chance to clean up the heads. However they got there, the point is that if I ruled the garden like a chubby little dictator with bad hair and a penchant for knocking off relatives (I’m thinking of one in particular), the accident wouldn’t have happened and our supply of salad greens would be less extensive. 

As gardeners, we should see ourselves as choreographers. We co-ordinate, manage, create and refine, but it’s nature that does the actual dancing and in many cases, we’d do well to take an approach of minimal intervention. 

Now, I know that garlic doesn’t like competing with weeds, so in the next couple of weeks I’ll need to harvest the self sown plants and let the garlic get on with its thing unhindered. That’s management. Control would have been treating the salad greens as weeds and hoeing them out as soon as they appeared. 

Let your garden dance and you’ll be surprised at how beautiful and productive it can become.