Here at Larner Seeds, we take pleasure watching plants appear unbidden in unexpected corners of the garden. Most gardeners know the joy of the volunteer plant: an exuberant winter squash vine bursting out of a compost pile, flowers growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. Having found the right conditions, these volunteers have a lot to teach us. In the native restoration garden, they are an indication of imbalance or of success.
Cobweb thistle, Cirsium occidentale, is one of those species whose unplanned appearances delight us. The seeds float gently around the garden on a windy day at summer's end. Although this showy silver-leaved thistle's bright crimson flowers surprise the eye in harsh circumstances, such as on steep road cuts on Mount Tamalpais, or in windswept dunes near Abbot's Lagoon, we have still watched over them with care in the garden.
This year, a beautiful specimen showed up literally at our front door, treating visitors to both a nice sight and an occasional jab to the thigh upon entering our garden shop. An inconvenient spot, but we couldn't bear to pull it out. It had shown up in just the right place to thrive.