park bench in springIn gardening some people call volunteers “weeds.” Not me. The way I garden, or do not garden, uses a lot of mulch and groundcovers, the reduction of lawn since it demands attention that I find hard to schedule, and many volunteers.

Volunteers can be surprising. Plants show up that I never planted and some in places better than I had chosen. My volunteers  include cotoneaster, Virginia bluebells, wild ginger, Virginia creeper, two kinds of milkweed, porcelain berry, and spiderwort– all of whom I welcomed and encouraged.

Some volunteers do the job in spite of changing circumstances. The purple coneflower, thoroughly invaded by four different colors in two species of flox, still does the hard work of late, hot summer. The brown-eyed susans have fled the spot where I originally put them, which turned from sunny to shady as the tulip tree grew, and showed up in neat sunny patches elsewhere. The Mexican hats have gained more variety each year. The hostas thrive in seveal areas where sun and shade compete for supremacy.

I have reservations about some of the volunteers who tend to get out of control. Carpet bugle has erupted in spots which suspiciously suggest a takeover plot. The graceful and intriguing Oriental Sumac persists in showing up where it is unwelcome. The trumpet vine continually disappoints in its purpose of attracting hummingbirds, but lives up to its reputation as an intruder. And what are those ants doing in the tansy? It is supposed to repel them! The poison ivy always shows up somewhere, usually as a very small sprig masquerading as a maple sprout or something else.

I have waged full-out war against some volunteers whom I consider nuisances. On this year’s list is morning glory. Where do those seeds come from? And my battle with ground ivy, the well-named “Creeping Charlie,” has more defeats than victories. I have drawn the line in the sand against a further advance by apple mint and lemon balm. In every case they keep me alert and going, so I accept my enemies. Maybe someday I will even learn to love them.

Volunteers are wonderful, inspiring, challenging, exasperating, demanding. They require attention sometimes and being left alone at others. They are at the heart of my garden and everywhere else. I celebrate them. There would be no garden or community without them.