Wild oats a garden surprise

GARDENERS, particularly vegetable growers, will tell you about certain surprises in their gardens.

All of us have high regard for volunteers - those people who give up their time to make a better world for others around them.

But there are also volunteers in the garden.

These are the plants that pop up unbidden in the garden, usually in the wrong spot.

Of course there are weeds that do that and they could be regarded as a headache.

Weeds are generally good at extracting nutrients from the soil that other more polite (some might say "spoilt") plants are to ashamed to do.

Their use in the compost heap helps to enrich its plant nutrient base. For an organic grower in a backyard situation they are not a great a problem, and are often welcome.

But what the home gardener normally calls a "volunteer" plant is one that has ignored all the rules of garden order.

These are the seeds of reprobate plants or of fruit that escaped the compost heap - they are the "wild oats". Often they are a headache. And the worst part is you don't know if they are going to be total losers or dux of their class.

Most of these "volunteers" are the offspring of hybrid plants that have come into being by unnatural sexual acts.

We all know about the birds and the bees. In plant life the happy union is facilitated by a complying bee which, after respectfully asking first the male and then the female flowers of like plants (it has to be in that order) if she could visit them in turn.

If assent is given she does her duty for a small payment of pollen which is converted into honey. And, hey presto, a plant results from that union.

But hybrid plants are made by men who forcefully remove the male pollen from a suitable donor plant and mate it with the female flower to produce a monster.

Now the unhappy offspring of such pairing will give a seed that, in maturity, could revert to either parent.

But sometimes you get a plant that goes absolutely berserk and gives you prolific produce. That is a cause for celebration.

That is what happened to me with a runaway tomato plant. It was growing well out of the way, so healthy that I resisted the urge to pull it out. I have been rewarded for my patience. The plant is full of tasty bite-size tomatoes. I have had to stake it up it is so heavy in fruit. And that is why a volunteer plant is such a headache.

If you pull it out, are you removing something that could reward you a hundredfold?

If you hang around, the Advocate Garden might give you a tip about avoiding that conundrum.