As the Holiday season sweeps in, and we are bombarded with Black Friday and "Week of Black Friday' deals for everything ranging from automobiles to underwear, so too come the seed catalogs. Like most everything else, they too seem to arrive earlier and earlier each year. My personal rule? I try to save them until the week after Christmas, resisting any temptation to peek at what All America Winners made the cover, or what amazing 'new' heirloom tomato is suddenly the 'it' tomato of the year. Aside from Pelargoniums, geraniums and a few seeds which much be sown before the New Year, I too stay away from any seed sites until the last week of December. I've noticed an abundance of blog posts and Google+ groups talking about seed saving, and like many gardening tasks, there are as many false truths being passed around, far too many to comment on here. Instead of stepping upon my soapbox, I am just going to share with you what I bother to save, when it comes to seed in my garden, and, a few secret sources for seed really worth seeking out, and bothering to save.
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|Like make poppy species, Papaver triniifolium produces exceptionally tiny seed.|
|Papaver triniifolium blooming in my garden this past summer. The seedlings came from an expedition sponsored by the Denver Botanic Garden, where this plant originated from.|
|Next year, these super-tall Marigolds, which are F1 hyrbids, may revert back to their parents, which most likely were inferior, but surely, they will be tall.|
|Only a few seeds are making it into my seed storage containers this year.|
But when it comes to seed exchanges - those long, typeset seed lists on paper which one is invited to participate in, when one is a member of a rare plant or alpine plant society such as the North American Rock Garden Society, The Alpine Garden Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Club or even the choice Stonecrop Garden's Seminum and Rarium - one of the greatest garden secrets available for fine seed, one must order early, or run the risk of not getting any seed at all.
|I save only a few of my own garden seeds, but this Asclepias tuberosa was one that I felt needed some major propagating - I, needing 50 or so plants for a new planting scheme, this native US species is a 'feel good' indulgence.|
As for garden collected seed? Well, that's a whole other story. I am often asked if I save my own seed, and my answer is yes - of course I do, but I am not a 'seedsaver' - you know, one of those doomsday believers with inferior seed stashed in a 5 gallon bucket in my root cellar, nor am I one of those who scrubs my rotten heirloom tomatoes onto paper towels, or who collects random flower and vegetable seeds from my garden to save in some silly retaliatory effort to 'stick it' to those 'evil' non GMO - 'corporate monsters', if you beleive in such things. Politics aside, responsible seed saving and plant breeding is important business, and strong, vigorous varieties, hyrbids as well as non-hybrid plants are both essential to the success of our own species.
|I generally save my own Tricyris hirta, or Toad Lily seed, yet Rodgersia, on the right, is a perennial which I prefer to start from seed given their cost, but from seed purchased from Germany ( Jelitto Seeds) because they prechill them.|
Saving ones own vegetable seed does little to promote good agriculture and does even more damage to good horticulture. There are two or more sides to every story, and this is one which frankly is far too complex - the story of suppling an ever-growing human population with food - for most any of us to effect in a positive way. I prefer to focus on the propagation of rare and unusual plants, to support horticultural diversity where it really matters, not complaining about how (Cornell's) Marketmore 76 cucumbers from 1976 and whether it should be considered a true 'heirloom' variety or not. (what about Marketmore 80? Or 89 or 90?). Please seedsavers - be informed first, think before you post.
|Arisaema ( Jack in the Pulpit) seed, of an unknown and perhaps new species to science, was collected on an expedition to remote Tibet might be something more worth growing, if you want to 'save the world' or only a little, tiny part of it.|
I know many of you are very curious if not excited about saving your own garden seed, but please do it for the right reason, and do it for the results, not as a political statement. Be informed before you collect, all may not be as you imagine. Many bloggers are posting images of saving seeds, which is fine, but some are offering advice which is misinformed - just today I read three posts about saving F1 hyrbid marigolds, which will result in either a plant that will not bloom, or a single flowered, weedy plant that may not be the result you are looking for - but here is an idea - if you really care about the future of our planet, then do something really helpful - contribute to a fund that sponsors an expedition to save some of the worlds rarest plants, or buy a share in an expedition seeking undiscovered medicinal plants, or one where the seeds are shared not only with you but with some of the worlds most respected botanical gardens - such as one of the Chris Chadewell trips to Western Tibet or China? Or check with your local university. Then, grow THOSE seeds, and share ( it's what I do). Many private collectors contribute important plants worth saving to their respective plant societies. In the back of the catalogs, they often list the collector, the scientist, the botanist or the amateur collector who make the trek to Tibet or to the Andes - Then, you may truly have contributed to something worth while. You may have helped contributed to major advancements in science, maybe even a cure for a dreaded human disease.
(Even though they are mostly alpine plant societies, they offer much more than alpine plants, as such things go - these are more about societies for people who love plants, so expect ferns, trees, shrubs, garden perennials, bulbs, greenhouse plants and more on these seed lists. Mostly, expect pure species and not crosses on these lists. That is important, plants as they appear in the wild.
NARGS Seed Exhange ( mention to them how nice their new site design looks - just sayin'!)
Alpine Garden Society (Like many of these exchanges you will need to become a member)
Chris Chadell Contribute to one of his expeditions, and mention my name, we are good friends.
Scottish Rock Garden Club (they have a great on-line community, and their list is on-line)
Royal Horticultural Society Seed scheme ( Don't you love how the Brit's use the word 'scheme?)
The American Primrose Society Seed Exchange often the only place to obtain many primula species.
Mediterranean Garden Society Seed List ( If you live in California, or..um, in the Mediterranean)
The Cottage Garden Society Seed List ( In the UK - they may ship overseas)
The Hardy Plant Society Seed Distribution
The American Horticultural Society Seed Program
The Cyclamen Society seed exchange
The North American Lily Society Seed Exchange
The American Penstemon Society Seed Exchange
American Rhododendron Society Seed List
I fully support commercial seed growers, plant breeders and and I believe in good horticulture. I will save some open pollinated annuals if they are hard to find, but beyond that, it's just not worth my time, and definitely not worth the effort, given the results. Honestly, I am pretty sick of reading about other bloggers who advise the uninformed to save their own marigold or vegetable seed ( even pear seeds! As I read today). Unless you are certain that your plants are open-pollinated, you most likely will be disappointed with your results. This year I saved some heirloom corn, a few dry bean varieties which are truly heirloom, and some seed from plants that have produced seed in my garden, but which were collected on expeditions to Western China and Tibet, as those are plants which must be propagated and saved, or they can be lost here in the West. But my own carrot and lettuce seed? Not so much. Don't even get me started ( but if you have a raised be or two and you are saving your own seed beyond heirloom tomatoes? Please do so only because you are curious to see what you will get, or because it makes you feel good, but for no other reason than that - and please -share your results with me.
I rarely save any vegetable seed, even if it is open pollinated, unless I am curious. I am not living off of my garden, and my garden is not large enough to impact any corporation or major grower, and the way I view the current seed-saver trend, is that my few hundred square feet needs to supply a respectable crop to make my time worth while, so I want my seed to be superior. I may save some of my more unusual perennial, biennial or annual seed, but I am doing so only because they are rarer plant species which are either difficult to find, or simple too rare to loose. I often save my own bulb seed in the greenhouse ( not my Dutch bulb seed such as tulips or crocus, unless they are true, fertile wild forms). I collect only the choicest alpine seeds, especially primula and androsace species, both from of my own garden collections as well as from in the wild, which I share with a few select plant society seed exchanges.