How Does Chanticleer Handle Self-Sowing Plants?


With a lot of man or woman power! That is not a joke either. 


While visiting Chanticleer this June, I attended one of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s educational seminars on Biennials and Self-Seeders. While a very enjoyable two hours, it really offered very little new information to experienced gardeners or landscape professionals. I am not sure what I was expecting, but the tips were very time-consuming and commonly known.

The first tip for controlling aggressive self-seeding plants was to hand dig the numerous seedlings in Spring. One advantage to digging them up was to move them to a new location if you choose. I do this with both perennials like pincushion flower or penstemon and annual seedlings, like Verbena bonariensis, butterfly weed, cosmos and snapdragons.

The second tip was collect the seed when mature to broadcast where and when you want them. I have done this also with various plants, like corn poppies.

On the same thought, saving seed to pot up over winter was a tip. This one is just too time-consuming and inconvenient only having grow lights and no greenhouse, but I do pot up perennial plants to overwinter outside under our snow cover. My back garden is filled with potted plants right now, many being sent off to new homes.

Potting up saved seed or perennial plants is a good way to have the plants appear in the garden where you need the color or interest. While good advice, methods they use for their Elevated Walk, cutting, gravel and meadow gardens still entailed quite a bit of work. As pretty as it is at Chanticleer, many beds beside the new the new Elevated Walk were a bit over-grown and under culling procedures. To their credit, the many gardeners responsible for their assigned beds were thinning out the beds, weeding and digging out sizable  areas to replant. I will show more coming up.

One problem they run into in the very full gardens is some of the desired self-seeders were not self-sowing as much as they wanted, or seeding only in places where they shouldn’t.  Below is South African Foxglove. Some were blooming in the cracks of the walkway by the pool. They could not get the plant to reseed where it was planted or the seed broadcast. Most probably, it needs extremely gravely planting medium and prefers the dry, sanded cracks of the paving.

Verbena bonariensis also seeds where it likes, not where you want. Their gardeners and myself have the same problem with this plant. One explanation, the seed does not reach bare soil exposed to sunlight in which to germinate.

South-African-FoxgloveIn some cases, the beds at Chanticleer are too full and the seed has little or no bare earth on which to germinate. The gravel garden was one such place. The gardener had to thin the garden to allow bare earth to greet the warm sun. As you can see this is a never-ending process.  An advantage to thinning? They get to edit the garden and have desired plants  artfully interspersed throughout, like which was well illustrated in the gravel garden.


Controlling weed seed is also a huge chore since no chemicals or pre-emergents are used in the gardens. There was no tip on this one, just, pull, pull, pull. Some of the desired plants like Orlaya grandiflora, shown below by a Chanticleer intern, become a “weed” with their aggressive self-sowing.

Some these plants included in the gardens might be considered weed plants (or wild flowers depending on your perspective). It all depends how much space they inhabit or how many new places in which they might pop up. It really is a constant battle.


What I did learn was a few plants that were interesting, like the South African Foxglove. I doubt it would seed here in all the clay. Some of the recommended plants are already in my garden.  Delphinium exaltation is native and is a quite beautiful self-sowing plant. In these gardens it was a bit aggressive. In my garden, it is not be due to stratification since I have had this plant before and it disappeared on previous occasion.


Some seed species undergo an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken, or some seed may not survive winters here. Seed scarification results from a seed’s hard seed coat being impervious to water and also aides in a plant’s dormancy period. Freezing helps this process to happen. In my garden, Nasturtiums and Cleome germinate freely after a good freeze.

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis

Good self sowing annuals I use include verbena bonariensis, zinnia, fennel, dill, and cosmos. But watch fennel and dill, either will be everywhere. I keep those herbs potted. Chanticleer also used dill that ended up in walkway cracks. Penstemon, butterfly weed, ragwort, goldenrod, pin cushion flower are some perennials that reproduce  easily and freely.

Soil composition and texture is another consideration to whether plants can move from place to place or zone to zone. The instructor did not get into these biological or  horticultural processes, but since the attendees came from various places around the country, it was worth mentioning. I purchased a native Jack-in-the-Pulpit which I hope will naturalize for instance. It is not as pretty as the hybrids, but just might make a nice companion for my fern and hosta.

Mt . Cuba? I have some tips coming from there soon. I don’t just post photos, but add something you might not know about these phenomenal gardens. Next, the month in photos at my garden and a look at some of these self-sowing plants.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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25 Responses to How Does Chanticleer Handle Self-Sowing Plants?

  1. Wow! Those gardens are amazing and it’s a good thing they have a lot of volunteers. So much work.
    I have Jack-in-the-Pulpit that appeared in my backyard naturally. It also has reseeded itself. But it took a few years for the seeds to germinate and sprout so be patient. Also, when the seedlings come up they can be mistaken for poison ivy because they have 3 leaves. Good luck with yours!

    • I am unsure of how many staff and volunteers Chanticleer has on duty. At Jenkins, I was there on volunteer day and they had quite a few. I went to their work area and saw all of them potting up plants for the plant sale. I do know Jack-in-the -Pulpit has leaves like Poison Ivy. At Jenkins I took a photo of them growing together. I asked the horticulturalist about the Jack-in-the-Pulpit because the leaves were really big. He also said poison Ivy can grow that big too and often they are confused. Because of the bigger leaves, I bought one of their plants. I don’t have a woodland area, but under the Viburnum with fern and hosta should be OK. I hope it lives, thank you.

  2. I like the idea of potting up extra plants and setting them where you need them. I could do that with black-eyed Susans. I have nasturtium for the first time and will see if I can get it to come back.

    • When I thin out the gardens, divide perennials, and pot up plants for plant sales, I often look at the potted plants growing big and strong weeks later and put some back in the garden near some other blooming plant I know would make a nice combination. Right now I have a beautiful looking Veronica ready to bloom and am looking to place it back in the garden.

      You know the problem with plant sales? Most of them happen too early before the plants are in bloom – or even full and robust enough. Many times only a nub or two leaves are showing. It is not such a good sales display. Sometimes, only very experienced gardeners can identify a perennial with so little in view. Plus, I have seen plants mislabeled because the gardener has no clue what they dug up. Sometimes I have seen weeds for sale.

      Do what I do. Let the seed fully mature – usually just a tender squeeze lets you know – then deadhead the seed head and drop them back in the garden rather than the compost pile. It looks a little like flower litter, but I don’t need to take the time to collect the seed, dry them then broadcast. I let nature do the work for me. My whole front bed edge is self-seeded plants. It looks like I planted them this year too. I did move a few snapdragons back to the clump though. The wind sends them into the tall perennials and they have little chance to bloom.

      • I may gather the nasturtium seed and plant it in pots.

        • Grow lights? I find raising the annuals under grow lights makes them too tall, week and spindly. It works, but it takes them too long in Spring to get healthy in the garden. A greenhouse is so much better and I had access to two of them for a decade and never used them either. I used to bring in the geranium every year from wintering in the basement They got to be 5 feet high after a few years. But like I said on the annuals, it was near the end of summer before they really looked good and bloomed well.

  3. swo8 says:

    That is so inspiring, Donna. I have to get out and do some in the garden.

    • Certainly, broadcast those seeded annuals. The result looks natural and very pleasing. But, the work will follow as mentioned. My next post shows my garden and so many perennials and annuals have seeded where they want to grow. I have to shelve the designer in me and let nature be my muse. Not every time she places plants where is best, but sometimes the result is surprisingly beautiful. I really should do a post about that, but Garden Walk season is here and I am swamped with places to go.

  4. alesiablogs says:

    Beautiful photos. I have been excited my blueberries have blueberries this year! Funny how the little things add up to something wonderful and maybe even yummy!

  5. Thought you might be interested in this article (it’s open access):

    • Thank you. I did a fast read through, then the conclusion of the paper and agree totally on the seed mixes. I don’t use mixes any longer, but rather plant plugs. The annual seed is still broadcast for next year’s bloom though. This was a very thorough study. I like how they netted the plants to accurately test for pollen and nectar quantities. I will read it completely with more time.

      There is a test garden at Mt. Cuba Center that is testing certain and various native cultivars for insect benefit. They obviously are not netting the plants to my knowledge though. I have a post coming up on Mt. Cuba. I was surprised at the amount of cultivars used, but like my own garden, they use them in a formal setting and need good control on the plant’s behavior. The wooded areas and outlying gardens did have mostly true native plants. The Center is a great resource with their seminars and classes. Having lived in PA, you must know of Mt. Cuba in Delaware. Not too far from Hawk Mountain. I went there from Philadelphia.

      • Yeah, this is a growing interest…we are doing a similar study here! I think there is a growing interest in the nutrition plants provide to bees…both in terms of ornamentals and natives.

  6. I say beautiful garden whatever the balance is. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Good post. I have been to Longwood but not to Chanticleer or Mt. Cuba. When you talk about self-seeding pincushion flower, do you mean Knautia or Scabiosa or both? I have Knautia and know it self-seeds, but just planted some Scabiosa this year. I have one Delphinium exaltatum, it has not bloomed yet. I’m thinking I will want some more for next year.

    • Knautia arvensis, or field scabious, is a species in the genus Knautia. Mine was supposed to be S. columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’. The mother plant was tall at around 2.5 feet and died this winter. Now all over the garden I have the babies (very short) and the leaf is more similar to the species. They are not producing quite like the Scabiosa. It makes me wonder what happened to my original plant. I wonder if it reverted? My golden rod, Golden Baby, was small in stature, and next thing I knew the bees must have cross pollinated it and it was over 5 feet tall and everywhere in the garden. I have to have a talk with those bees. 😀 Next post, I show the native Delphinium back in the garden. I hope my tall Delphinium elatums do not turn into something else.

  8. bittster says:

    Always an interesting read , sorry you were a little underwhelmed with the information presented. I love many of the self sowers but am fairly ruthless with them. You have to be if you want to keep some kind of order and keep the chaos at bay. There will be plenty of time for chaos in October when everything starts to fall apart!

    • It was OK, but she usually gives a Keynote presentation with lots of photos and lists. I think I would have preferred that over the field walk. She kinda just winged it on the walk. We spent a lot of time looking at 2 inch seedlings in the paving cracks, not even getting to the cutting garden until last. We pretty much walked the whole property. I was already there the whole day too. It rained hard the whole time I was there, except for her 2 hour walk, but I had a huge golf umbrella they loaned me. The talks are $35 and not run by Chanticleer. Someone told me they are to make money for the PHS. The seminars at Mt. Cuba are far better. They had them inside, showed slides, great speakers and had a lunch after. That talk was on land management. It was a bit geared to land management professionals, so somewhat out of the league of home gardeners.

  9. Karen says:

    I’m always amazed (and not always amused) at where many of my self-sowing flowers decide to grow. I have to grudgingly admit, the plants do know better than I did about their preferred growing conditions. And the weeds are, as always, thrilled to do their thing. I’m always interested in listening to the owners of large gardens and their various tactics for managing the grounds.

    • I agree, the plants seem to be a better judge of where to make their homes. So many here “go down the hill” in order to get the water runoff at the garden’s edge. Chanticleer is so large, I cannot image taking care of each of their gardens. The gardeners sometimes have more than one garden to tend too. Emily, the presenter, had the pool garden and the cutting gaden for her daily jobs.

  10. Indie says:

    Lovely gardens, but oh that must take a lot of work! My gardens are fairly new, and I struggle to keep up with all weeds in the bare patches, not to mention the self-sowing Verbena bonariensis, Blue Balloon flower, and Rose Milkweed that is sprouting everywhere and needs to be moved. Just never enough time! Thankfully the sweet alyssum usually self sows itself right where I want it – along the sidewalks and pathways.

    • I just raised a Monarch here on milkweed and am very leery to add it to the garden. I really learned my lesson with goldenrod. While goldenrod was a cultivar and very small, it became very tall and very invasive. I still cannot get it out of the garden.

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