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To Deadhead or Not to Deadhead


That is indeed the question in my mind at the moment. I know the received wisdom is to nip-off developing seed heads, but I question this advice for two reasons. Firstly, I am convinced that our daffodils and tulips have self-seeded around the garden. This year, a beautiful white parrot tulip has appeared in a pot of clematis and fuchsia – I didn't plant it there, but it's flowering away happily – and then in the spring garden, daffodils have appeared in nooks and crannies between tree roots and stones, where we couldn't have planted them as we wouldn't have been able to push the bulbs in. So, if we had deadheaded, we would have deprived ourselves of these unexpected pleasures. And even though, apparently, allowing the plant to set seed diminishes the parent bulb, I haven't found this to be the case, not yet, anyway.

But I think there's a more important point than this. To me, the process of deadheading is akin to only appreciating the beauty of youth. When I'm wandering around the garden, I love to see how a seed head develops: how as the petals diminish and become papery like old damask curtains, the ovary begins to swell as the seeds inside develop. I find it fascinating to watch, and I love how each day the shape, colour and texture of the seed head changes slightly. It is as beautiful as the flower to me. But just as we don't appreciate the beauty of older people – who feel they become invisible in society, their skills and wisdom overlooked – we don't often appreciate the beauty of humble seed pods. We snip them off to improve next year's flowers – but I think that this curtailing of the natural lifecycle of the plant must confuse or discompose it, because all of its energy wants to go into the seed. It goes against Nature to deadhead – and one thing us humans have to stop doing is going against Nature.

As I get older, I appreciate the little miracles of the self-seeded and the wind-blown. Finding a viper's bugloss seedling in the parsley row feels like a victory for the wild things. I'm definitely on their side.

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