Self-seeding Weeds

Self-seeding plants are easy-care, pretty and free. Equally perfect for cottage gardens and contemporary gardens – here are 25 reliable self-seeders. Self-seeded vs weeds – how to be more relaxed about your garden. Find the balance that is right for you and try a new gardening style.

The 25 best self-seeding plants to save you time and money

Self-seeding plants are the key to gardening on automatic. The less you do, the more they grow.

And they’re free. You buy one packet of seeds or one plant, and get a lifetime of exuberant flowers.

But I did feel rather guilty while going round my garden today. I counted over 25 different kinds of self-seeding plants.

This section of the main border is wholly self-seeded: alliums, euphorbia, rosa glauca and crocosmia…

Do I actually ever plant anything? Do I even lift a finger in the garden?

I promise I do. But without self-seeders, my garden would be much less vibrant. And I would have to spend much more time and money on it.

What are self-seeding plants?

It’s not a silly question. When patrolling the garden, I had to ask myself ‘is this a self-seeder or a clump-former?’

A self-seeding plant is one which plants itself. If you’re a bit lazy about dead-heading, then self-seeders will flower. They turn to seed and drop on the ground. If you’re also always a bit behind with the weeding, they will pop up again in spring.

The wind or birds may also carry the seed, so self-seeding plants can pop up in any part of the garden.

My two most prolific self-seeders are wild gladioli and euphorbia.

Some plants, such as day lilies, have all expanded from one or two tiny plants into huge clumps. But they don’t wander round the garden, establishing themselves wherever they see fit. So I don’t call them self-seeders.

Which plants self-seed in your garden can depend on your soil type as well as how good you are at weeding and dead-heading.

Aquilegias and eryngium are both defined as top self-seeders by Gardeners World, but I have planted one or two aquilegias. I still have only one or two aquilegias, exactly where I planted them. I know they’re not the same plants, but I wouldn’t call them a top self-seeding plant for my garden.

And my eryngium has also stayed where I planted it, without invading anywhere else.

We have clay soil, by the way, with some flint. And we roughly equate to a USDA hardiness zone of 9, with winters that rarely go more than a few degrees below freezing.

My very favourite self-seeder

Wild gladioli

One of our friends was born in this house in 1939. He remembers the wild gladioli in the garden when he was a very young boy. It’s likely that they were already well established by then as most gardening in the Second World War was growing for food.

So these wild gladioli have been in this garden for a hundred years or more. It’s their garden, more than it’s mine.

Gladiolus communis subsp. ‘Byzantinus’ to give wild gladioli its proper name. It comes from the Mediterranean but has been grown in Britain for centuries. In our front garden it lines itself up along the wall. My favourite self-seeder, because of its history.

The best self-seeding flowers


After wild gladioli, my number two self-seeder is cerinthe. It’s an unusual looking plant, and people always ask ‘what’s that?’ But it’s no trouble at all.

I grew some cerinthe (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’) from seed about fourteen years ago. They didn’t do particularly well, but the following year, they established two self-seeded clumps in the garden, and have thrived on total neglect ever since.

Alliums ‘Purple Sensation’ and Christophii

These are the self-seeding plants I couldn’t do without. I find that both Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium Christophii self-seed vigorously. I originally bought 15 Purple Sensation about ten years ago, and now have around 50.

The tall lollipops are Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and the shorter pale lilac fireworks are Allium Christophii. Seen here with self-seeders Euphorbia oblongata and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

There was one Allium Christophii in this garden when we moved in 15 years ago. We now have around 80-100.

I particularly love this combination as both plants self-seeded themselves here. Allium Christophii knew it would look good with Rosa glauca.


The common poppy or Papaver rhoeas is brilliantly colourful and so charmingly simple.

I’d like my poppies to be that pretty lilac colour, but my garden has other ideas. Am I in charge here or not? Not. Although I think the lilac ones may have mixing with my reds…

Lychnis coronaria

Otherwise know as ‘rose campion’, this has cheery pink flowers and a nice grey felted foliage. Some of my lychnis has planted itself in a neat circle around a tree. It’s too close and isn’t particularly good for the tree, but I do admire the way it has synchronised itself.

This rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) may look sweetly shy and retiring, but give it an inch and it’ll take a mile.

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Erigeron or ‘seaside daisies’

I love seeing clouds of these growing out of walls and steps. Though I do have friends who don’t like them…you know who you are.

Seaside daisies with lady’s mantle, or – if we’re being posh – Erigeron karvinskianus with Alchemilla mollis.


Where would a summer garden be without foxgloves? Here is a photo of the back border, which is actually full of plants which I planted. Except for the foxgloves, who kindly decided that I needed a bit more vertical interest.

The spires of foxgloves improve this border, most of which was actually planted. Although I keep digging up the Japanese anenomes – they’re spreaders, not self-seeders and would survive anything.


This is a surprise entry for this section. You are supposed to be able to grow coriander as a herb in Britain, provided you plant it late enough in the year to stop it bolting.

I have never managed to get more than a handful or two of the coriander leaves for the kitchen, but it flowers and self-seeds so beautifully that I think it probably works better as a flower for me.

Coriander grown from seed. It bolted but has since come back twice, and I rather love the flowers.

Self-seeders for foliage

My top self-seeders for foliage or greenery are:

Euphorbia oblongata

It’s unstoppable in its bid for world domination. Some of my other euphorbias, such as Euphorbia palustris, don’t self-seed or spread at all.

This Euphorbia oblongata knows that you should always plant yourself in threes….the spiky leaves between them are self-seeded Crocosmia, who also appear to have been reading about garden design and the importance of contrasting leaf shapes.

Alchemilla mollis

Lady’s mantle froths happily between pavers and pops up in beds. I have no idea where it came from. One day it wasn’t there, and then it was.

This Alchemilla mollis (also known as Lady’s mantle) has planted itself amongst some low-growing roses.

Smyrnium perfoliatum

This is another vibrant early summer green that looks after itself. I bought three plants from Great Dixter over ten years ago, and now have two huge clumps. It’s exceptionally long-lasting as a cut flower and disappears completely around the end of June.

Smyrnium perfoliatum – a vigorous self-seeder for shade. It looks a bit like euphorbia and lasts a long time in a vase.

Self-seeding edibles

You can eat both marigolds and nasturtiums. I have known komatsuma and spinach to self-seed and be good to eat, and also rocket.


Definitely my top self-seeding herb. It took a good year to get established from seed, and I was initially disappointed by its growth. But in its second year, it took off around the garden, where it serves as foliage, garnish and an ingredient for parsley sauce.

The parsley goes where it likes. Here it’s decided to share with a row of beetroot.

Self-seeding companion plants

It’s helpful if self-seeders can be useful. Marigold and nasturtiums are both valuable in the veg patch, where they help deter pests.


People can be snooty about these, and I do often pull them out, but their smell repels greenfly and blackfly. They also attract hoverflies which live on blackfly, so they are generally a good thing.

Marigolds in the rhubarb beds – they seem happy to grow anywhere in the garden, but I pull them out elsewhere.

Sculptural self-seeders

Sculptural plants are vital in any garden, and self-seeders can be wonderfully sculptural.

Angelica archangelica

It takes a couple of years to establish because it’s a biennial, but once it gets a cycle going, you’ll never have to give it another thought. Brilliant in May and June, collapses a bit after that, but you have to leave it or it won’t self-seed.

Angelica archangelica used as a temporary hat stand over a long lunch….

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

There was a patch of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ in this garden when we arrived fifteen years ago. It is now everywhere, but I do like it. Its seed-heads are wonderful, both in the vase and in the garden.

Crocosmia Lucifer with another sculptural self-seeding plant – verbena bonariensis.

Verbena bonariensis

This doesn’t self-seed quite as vigorously as I’d like, so I occasionally have to re-plant it. But it seems to need very little attention, and wanders about the garden, occasionally planting itself in a pot.


This is so obliging that many people consider it a weed, but I love its sculptural creamy flowers.

The best self-seeding plants for shade

Angelica archangelica, foxgloves, smyrnium perfoliatum, lamium (dead nettle), primroses and Solomon’s seal all do well in shade. Solomon’s seal takes several years to get properly established, but I know have two generous clumps – from just one or two plants.

A trio of beautiful self-seeding plants that love the shade: Angelica archangelica, foxgloves and smyrnium perfoliatum.

Solomon’s seal now grows in two large clumps but it was not an overnight success. Patience is required, but not much effort. These plants were in a shady spot, and have gently self-seeded over around 10 years.

When NOT to allow self-seeding

Some plants do not make good self-seeders. In the veg bed, you won’t get any reasonable flavour out of anything that has self-sown from an F1 hybrid. That’s because an F1 hybrid has been specially created. Its seeds are usually disappointing.

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However, heritage varieties of vegetable may self-seed, or it’s worth keeping the seed.

Similarly some garden flowers don’t come true from seed. My lavender self-seeds but I have been warned by the grower I bought it off that it won’t come true. He advised me to take cuttings rather than rely on self-seeders.

And one warning about self-seeding…

If you are an expert gardener, you can tell the difference between self-seeding plants you want and weeds at a fairly early stage. However, I’ve accepted that allowing such a vibrant mix of self-seeders means I also have more work with weeding, as the weeds do seem to get established early too. In this post, I’ve covered this issue with finding the balance between self-seeding vs weeds.

There are also lots of self-seeders in a wildflower meadow. Even if you only have a small patch of lawn, this post can help you create a mini meadow.

Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day on the last Sunday in June

Come and see my self-seeders (and weeds). I am usually open on the last Sunday in June for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day. It’s held every year, with around 30 gardens open and a wonderful garden market in Faversham’s historic Market Place. Posy Gentles’ garden is also often open, and there’s a video preview of her long, thin town garden here:

Shop my favourite gardening tools, books and products…

I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together lists of my favourite books, tools and gardening products on The Middlesized Garden Amazon store (Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure).

For example, if you’re interested in self-seeding plants, you may also be thinking about making your garden more wildlife-friendly. I’ve done a post on What Makes A Good Wildlife Garden, and also put together some useful wildlife-friendly products like bird feeders, hedgehog homes and more on the Middlesized Garden’s Wildlife Friendly shopping list.

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Self-seeded vs weeds – can you achieve the magic balance?

I’ve been thinking about the balance of self-seeded vs weeds in my garden this year.

This is my main border. In May and June it is full of self seeded alliums. lychnis coronaria, euphorbia and a self-seeded Rosa glauca in the front by the bench.

We are open every year for the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day It’s always on the last Sunday in June. And June is the best time of year for self-seeders in my garden.

So I am doing some last minutes prinking. And I’m wondering, as always, whether I have got the balance right between self-seeded plants and weeds.

As garden writer, Helen Yemm, once told me – you need to be quite an expert gardener to tell the difference between self-seeded vs weeds when they are both small.

And when I first came to this garden sixteen years ago, I knew nothing about gardening. And I was very busy, so often didn’t have time to weed thoroughly, although we did have a few hours of paid gardening help every week.

The result of my neglect is that our June garden is a blaze of self-seeded plants. But the weeds in my garden are also horrendous.

Either I have not got the balance between self-seeded vs weeds right. Or there is no balance to be achieved. Maybe you can’t have one without the other.

Both sets of alliums and the euphorbia are self-seeded. However, I did originally grow the euphorbia from seed fifteen years ago, and it has romped around the garden since. Around 10 years ago,I bought a few alliums (Allium Christophii and Allium Purple Sensation). Since then, they have just sorted themselves out.

Are weeds becoming ‘fashionable’?

However, after going to this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I feel more positive about my weeds. The David Harber Savills garden had buttercups growing up through crevices, and the Welcome to Yorkshire garden actually had nettles. On the Canals and Rivers Trust garden at BBC Gardeners World Live, there was encouragement to keep your grassy edges shaggy.

So is my garden part of a new wave? Or are we all going to regret our new found relaxed attitude to weeds in a few years time when we find ourselves strangled by them?

This yellow weed is very pretty in the shady bed, with a backdrop of oak leafed hydrangea and self-seeded Angelica. I have tried to identify it but the closest I have come is ‘nipplewort’ or Lapsana communis. Please do correct me if I’ve got that wrong.

Is the self-seeded vs weeds balance psychological?

A couple of friends who are involved with the NGS have asked me if I’ve ever considered putting my garden forward for possible opening. I’ve explained about the weeds, usually feeling rather embarrassed.

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But now I’ve seen ‘weeds’ at Chelsea, I could explain that I’m aiming for a balance in self-seeded vs weeds. It’s actually my gardening style. I no longer need to feel embarrassed about it.

This bed definitely doesn’t have the balance between self-seeders and weeds right. There is terrible bindweed, plus brambles, plus nettles..but I do weed it, I promise. I’m thinking of making it a wildflower bed, and allowing the nettles to flourish for butterflies to enjoy. But the bindweed has even beaten back self-seeded fennel, so this happy idea may not be possible.

But it is important to be honest. Self-seeders are wonderful, free and gloriously relaxed, but my garden is full of weeds because I am a bit lazy about weeding. And there’s no virtue in that.

And weeding is definitely linked to self-seeding, even if you are an expert gardener. When I last wrote about the best self-seeding plants, some expert gardeners told me that plants ‘never self-seed’ in their gardens. However, this complaint only ever comes from people who are diligent weeders and have gardens full of beautiful blooms that they have actually planted.

Structure helps you get away with weeds

One reason why people don’t initially realise that my garden is full of weeds is that the weediest parts have a strong structure. The left hand back border is infested with bindweed, nipplewort (if that’s what it’s called), docks and more.

But, from a distance, the graceful Robinia frisia and the tailored outlines of topiarised holly and holm oaks disguise the muddle underneath.

Spot the weeds! You have to go close up, but next Sunday’s Faversham Open Gardens visitors will. Perhaps I’ll find out whether it’s definitely called nipplewort or not.

Interestingly, the other border on the back wall needs less weeding than anywhere else in the garden. It’s full of Japanese anemones. Could this be linked? Do Japanese anemones even beat off bindweed?

One year’s weeding saves seven years seeding

There’s no doubt that this saying is true. I probably now spend as much time weeding as those with immaculate gardens who have never allowed weeds to take over. One of the main arguments in the self-seeded vs weeds debate is that it seems almost impossible not to have both.

This week, I have filled a one ton sack full of weeds. And I have a wonderful friend who says that weeding is a good stress-reliever. She has relieved her stress to the tune of around five one-ton sacks this year.

So, although I love the more relaxed approach seen in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show and Gardener’s World Live, I think we should be honest about the consequences.

Even the vegetable beds have self-seeders – parsley, coriander, rocket, spinach and nasturtiums. They’re in the far bed, top right of this picture. In the foreground are a selection of common weeds.

Put the mower away…

One of the best things you can do for wildlife in your garden and for the environment is to put your mower away. Or use it less.

With the right treatment, the result should be a beautiful meadow lawn. Find out more in How to Create A Mini Meadow Lawn.

However, you will have to decide which plants in your lawn are wildflowers and which are weeds.

And you’ll need to weed out pernicious perennial weeds while leaving the wildflowers in. For more advice, see Meadow Lawn Mistakes and How to Avoid Them.

So what’s the conclusion about self-seeded vs weeds?

Last year, I wrote a post on how to create a mini-meadow in your garden. It may look as simple as simply ‘not mowing the lawn’. But after talking to many people who have mini meadows in their middle-sized gardens, I realised that there is work involved. But it’s a different sort of work and it takes place at a different time.

If you decide to go for a more relaxed self-seeded and weed-friendly garden, the same applies. It won’t necessarily be less work overall. But it may suit you better. It’s right for my gardening style and it may be right for yours.

But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s low-maintenance gardening. Those who weed regularly, wrenching a weed out the minute it pops its head up, probably ultimately spend less time weeding than the rest of us. True low-maintenance gardening is about easy care shrubs and well planned hard landscaping.

Where to buy tickets for Faversham Open Gardens

Tickets are £6 or £10 for two, available from the Faversham Society, 13 Preston St or the Faversham Open Gardens stall in the Market Place from mid-May. You can also get them posted to you if you ring 01795 534452. There are no tickets for sale at individual gardens.

And for listings of beautiful (weed-free) gardens to visit throughout the year, see the NGS Yellow Book. (Links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.)