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As the sea­sons turn, gar­dens can start look­ing a bit tired. Not that I’m ageist — there’s as much beauty in seed­pods as in spring flowers — but as nights become cool­er and dew­i­er, the baby seed­lings spring­ing up under the skirts of older plants are telling us it’s a nat­ur­al time for garden renewal.

Self-seed­ers are the type of weeds every­one wants. These are plants you don’t have to buy, carry home, plant or water. They just pop up by them­selves, mak­ing a gardener’s life much easi­er. Wel­come them in by not being too quick to ‘tidy up’ plants that have gone off to seed, and shak­ing a few seed­heads into areas that you want colonised.

The ran­dom­ness of self-sowers gives gar­dens a relaxed, romantic feel. But there can be a fine line between ‘nat­ur­al and relaxed’ and ‘totally fall­ing apart and out of con­trol’. The art is in the edit­ing, choos­ing which seed­lings to leave and which to pull up or move. Self-sowers can smoth­er less vig­or­ous plants if left unthinned. A self-sown clary sage beside a path, releas­ing its fra­grance as you brush past, is lovely; a few cen­ti­meters fur­ther into the path, and it’s just annoying.

Which plants self-sow best? In the vege patch you might find pars­ley, rock­et, lettuce, sil­ver beet, mizuna, mus­tard, cori­ander and dill (autumn is the best time to sow cori­ander to start off the self-sow­ing cycle.) My best winter salad greens are all self-sow­ing, pop­ping up year after year with min­im­al inter­ven­tion. Miner’s lettuce (Clayto­nia per­fo­li­ata) is a Cali­for­ni­an nat­ive with mild, tender, spin­ach-like leaves, and is a great salad staple over the colder months. Start it off from seed now and once you have it, it will return every winter. Land cress (Bar­barea ver­na) also pops up every year; I use it like water­cress or rock­et to spice up salads, pasta and pota­toes. Rock­et is a warm­er-weath­er green but, like cori­ander and dill, does best in the damp ‘shoulder sea­sons’ of spring and autumn. After a few years, rock­et may inter­breed with weedi­er brassicas, becom­ing coars­er and less tasty; at that point, it’s best to buy some more seed.

In oth­er parts of the garden favour­ite self-sowers include nas­tur­tium, a use­ful ground cov­er as long as it’s kept out of prime grow­ing spots, where it can become a thug; fox­gloves, espe­cially the white ones, for shady spots; vibrant crim­son Lych­nis, lovely among grasses; pop­pies of all kinds — early, bright red Anzacs, drought-tol­er­ant golden Cali­for­ni­an pop­pies or ruffled, tall opi­um pop­pies; bor­age for bees; stately, fra­grant clary sage; sweet alys­sum for dry, sunny spots; and calen­dula around the veget­ables, flower­ing for nine months of the year.

Got a minute? Look around under mature plants that have gone to seed, to identi­fy self-sown seedlings.

Got five minutes? Thin out seed­lings to give them more room, leav­ing the strongest and best placed to grow in situ. Water afterwards.

Got 15–30 minutes? Move some seed­lings to new pos­i­tions, or pot them up to grow on or give away. Always water them in well to pre­vent wilt­ing. Trans­plant­ing is a good job for an even­ing, or a damp, over­cast day.

Indoor job: Hunt down self-sow­ing plants in online seed cata­logues: try Kings Seeds or LovePlantLife.