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.064

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.005 (2)

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.014

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.012

Give me a propagator, seeds, compost and vermiculite or grit and I am a happy bunny. Give me seeds that are ‘tricky’ and I am in my element. 009

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!

Germinating Strawberries

When I finally got down to sowing the Toscana F1 strawberries from DT Brown, I read a few reviews and blog items and it seemed that germination was a bit tricky, particularly at this time of year, even in a propagator. However, I came across a “surefire” way of getting the pesky little seeds to germinate on an american homemade youtube video which looked promising so I decided to give it a try and……………….it worked!014

A week after placing the tiny seeds on damp kitchen paper sealed inside a ziplock plastic bag kept in a warm, light place, seven out of ten have germinated. I am not bothered about the others at the moment, experience has shown they can be erratic so they can stay in the bag a bit longer.

In the meantime, I have just carefully transferred the seedlings by toothpick into a pot of sieved seed compost. Fingers crossed!012


Turn up the heat!

ToscanaJust received these seeds from DT Brown. Was about to sow them and suddenly noticed the germination temperature! Thought I would ask their advice so I sent them the following:

I bought some ‘Toscana’ strawberry seeds,                                                                            I thought I would try something quirky,                                                                                     I looked forward to a summer of delicious soft fruit,                                                           And went to the greenhouse all perky.

But when I read the sowing instructions,                                                                                In despair I sank to my knees,                                                                                                 It said that in order to germinate,                                                                                           They need a temperature of 200 degrees!

Oh Mr Brown, I am now in a pickle,                                                                                          I don’t know what I should try,                                                                                               I’ve turned the knob as far as I can,                                                                                      But my propagator won’t go up that high!

Perhaps it’s a typo that nobody spotted,                                                                                 It can sometimes happen you know,                                                                                     Or maybe it’s true and these special seeds,                                                                           Need roasting to get them to grow!   

So please Mr Brown let me know what to do,                                                                      I’ve tried but I can’t raise that heat,                                                                                           If there’s something to try, apart from the oven,                                                                     Your wisdom would go down a treat!