If there is one thing that gets my horticultural juices flowing it is collecting seeds from the garden, and not just my garden! I find it irresistible. It has become a bit of a compulsion which might get me into trouble one day if someone spots me leaning over their wall or fence gently helping myself to a seed head or two. At this time of year I am inspecting my plants daily, checking to see what seed is ripe and ready to be collected.
The compulsion really got a grip after I joined the Cottage Garden Society and discovered their wonderful seed exchange. It got worse when I joined the Hardy Plant Society and found a similar but even larger seed exchange programme and worse still when I joined Plant Heritage. Need I go on! I think it is the little boy in me that is still amazed that a seed no bigger than a grain of sand can grow into a plant 2m tall, flower and set seed between March and August. Nicotiana mutabilis and Nicotiana sylvestris are two such examples.
Propagation is my thing. I love it. Each year the seeds are collected, dried, cleaned and put in small paper envelopes. They are stored in ice cream tubs and go in the beer fridge because they store better at 4°C. I can’t wait to get started, and by mid-February am itching to turn on the electric propagators. By mid spring I am overrun with seedlings and by early summer what I don’t need has either been sold at club meetings, plant sales or given away to neighbours, friends and family. By late summer I am sowing biennials and by early autumn can’t wait to begin sowing hardy annuals and perennials. It is a rhythm which is in tune with the life cycle of plants and the seasons, I am just doing what nature would do, but in my greenhouse and cold frames.
It is still extraordinary that this tiny infant plant can become a strawberry but it did. When I sow sweet peas in late October and they germinate with no heat, no comfort of any kind other than the protection of a cold greenhouse, it reminds me of the ways of nature. That’s what peas do. They send down a root system in winter and foliage in spring, flowers and seeds in summer. We tend to think seeds need cosseting, they don’t. If we do what they expect to do at the right time, in the right conditions, they perform. Never mind what we think….they will do it when they want to….even if that takes months…..even if they need to be frozen first….the trick is to mimic what they do in nature.
The sweet peas sown on 31 October last year and overwintered in a cold frame were so much stronger than the spring sown seeds. The root systems were better, the flowers were bigger and they lasted for longer.
The greenhouse and cold frame, slug and snail proofed, sheltered from excessive sun and rain, with a free-draining base of gravel and the aid of mushroom trays are all I need to produce hundreds of plants each year, almost for nothing. And the seeds I have too many of go to the seed exchanges and my local society seed swap to share the process with other like minded gardeners. What could be better!