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How to collect seeds from your garden

collecting chervil seeds

Collecting seeds seems to be one of those things that very few of us do any more.

There are so many tempting varieties in the seed catalogues, so many new things to try out, that it sometimes doesn't seem worth it or the time has passed and it becomes another thing on the 'should have done' list.

Yet I remember both my grandfathers and my Dad collecting up seeds in brown paper bags. I remember my Gran surreptitiously taking them from every stately house garden we visited and stashing them in her handbag.

I also know that there are many beautiful plants that have not survived because people didn't collect the seed and pass it on - not only is that a loss to individual gardeners, it means that we lose the diversity of the gene pool.

Last year all of this inspired me to design some seed packets for people to download and print out so they could collect their own seeds, and this year I have been busy collecting seeds from my garden for the members of Snapdragon Studio.

One of the perks of membership is free seeds from the garden a few times a year.

While I was harvesting seeds, drying them out, packaging them, writing the labels - I realised that it is one of those simple things that connect me to the season, to the cycle of growing. It was something that felt far bigger than the actual work involved. It turned out to be one of those magic activities that give more than they take.

So if you fancy having a go at collecting seed from your garden, these are my top tips

Which seeds should you collect?

  • My top seeds for collecting are the ones which have to be super fresh to germinate, the ones which will self sow in a garden but which can be really tricky to get going from a seed packet. These include Astrantia, chervil, black leaved cow parsley, sweet cicely. Sowed fresh these have a really good germination rate (though some may take ages as they like to go through winter first). From a packet they can be very patchy as they are often quite old.
  • The other seeds that I collect are from plants that are really good colour forms or heritage varieties - I have a beautiful bright pink columbine and orange poppies that are going on the list for members this year.
  • Annuals and biennials are the easiest to collect and the most rewarding as you move from seed to plant very quickly.
  • Wild flowers are adapted to very small geographical areas - if you are trying to establish a wild flower area then collecting local seeds is a great way to start (obviously only from places where there is a profusion of the variety).

Which seeds shouldn't you bother with?

  • There is little point collecting seeds from everyday plants or those which are going to have been cross pollinated by insects. For example, while it is quick and easy to collect sweet pea seeds and plant them, the resulting plants are probably not going to be as good as the originals. Seed houses grow varieties separately to keep them true to form. You might get a beautiful new variety, but usually you will get something that isn't quite as beautiful as the ones you began with.
  • There is also little point in collecting seed from perennials that are easy to increase by division (most hardy perennials will grow faster by division than seed)

How to collect seed

  • Choose a sunny, dry day as the biggest problem with home collected seeds is them developing mildew or mould - keeping them as dry as possible is the main aim.
  • Collect ripe seed - you will soon learn by looking when seed is ripe - poppy seedheads suddenly get little pepper pot holes round them, most umbellifer seeds darken and are easy to detach with a shake.
  • Take a paper bag to collect each variety of seed - write the type on the outside of the bag before you start. Cut the seed head off the plant and put it straight into the bag. If the seed is ripe this is probably enough - the seeds will fall off the seed head into the bag.
  • With plants that propel their seeds explosively when touched, carefully put the bag over the seed head before cutting the stem - with some varieties it can sound like you have a bag of popping popcorn as the movement causes the seeds to be thrown about.
  • Spread the seeds out flat in a greenhouse or sunny windowsill to let them dry out naturally for 24 hours. Shallow boxes or seed trays work well for this.

How to store seed

  • Seeds germinate best if they are sown fresh - so there is a good argument for sowing immediately, and then waiting for them to germinate (this can take a while as they will germinate at the correct time). However you might want to store them for convenience, to plant in the spring or to give to other people.
  • Envelopes are the best things to store seeds in - you can write the date and variety on the front - I use little manilla envelopes.
  • Seeds should be kept cool and dry to keep them viable for the longest period - a box or zipped pouch in a fridge is ideal. This applies to all seeds, not just ones you collect yourself - leaving the packets in a hot greenhouse is the fastest way to destroy their viability.
  • Google is your friend when collecting seed and growing it on. There is detailed information on germination times and requirements for almost every plant - my advice is to write it on the envelope so you know when you are sowing it whether the seeds could do with a cold spell in the freezer or a 24 hour soaking or another special treatment.

The list of available seeds from the garden will be being sent to members later this month - you can find out more about becoming a member here.

collecting seeds

If you enjoyed reading this you might also like to read about how I store my seeds.

Tags: gardening

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When I was at University it was the time of the Poll Tax, an unpopular tax made even more unpopular by being implemented in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK - 'Thatcher's guinea pigs'.⁠⠀
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It was a time of demonstration and violence with 50,000 marching in Glasgow, 1 million Scots refusing to pay. ⁠⠀
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It was a time Sheriff's Officers and poind sales of possessions. ⁠⠀
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Coalition student groups were formed - Socialist and Feminist and Anarchist and so on - there were big meetings in the Union, debates about a name and a logo and a manifesto. I remember lots of young, middle class, white men talked at length.  I remember that very, very little got done - a bus was organised to take students to Glasgow for the protests. ⁠⠀
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In the meantime, up the hill from the campus, three women (I thought of them as old at the time but I'm sure they were the age I am now) simply stood outside the auctions and asked nobody to attend.  They stood by the front doors, they explained their reasons, they prevailed.  They possibly looked randomly menacing in that way middle aged women can.⁠⠀
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People calmly bought back their possessions for 50p and their debts were squared. Action, meaningful results, a recognition that the personal is political - all while the student groups still debated their slogans.⁠⠀
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I've been thinking about those women a lot recently. If they were the age I think they were, they will be queuing up for their vaccines this month.
In my happy place.⁠⠀
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In the winter months The Studio is the centre of my working life. ⁠⠀
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This was yesterday.  Trimming pieces of vintage velvet fabric for the Studio Club shop; alpaca socks drying in the dispatch room behind me (we now have size 8-10 in stock too); a roll @scottishlinen seconds to experiment with hogging the cutting table.⁠⠀
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Bright and light and inspiring.
Starting the week with a photo from last year (simply because I lost a lot of this weekend to fatigue, so didn't take a new photo.)⁠⠀
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Budgie, my beautiful and psychotic cat, with a windowsill of white amaryllis. ⁠⠀
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Worth a second outing.
The proposed airstream conversion is in for planning permission approval at the moment, so that we change change its use from (neglected) artist's workshop into beautiful holiday accommodation.⁠⠀
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In my vision for this we get to use the paid holidaymaking element to subsidise some artist's residencies - painters, writers, musicians, makers coming here to soak up the landscape and be inspired.⁠⠀
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Yesterday my elder daughter, who lives in London, messaged me to say that our local DPD driver Slav was being given an award by @official.dpd.uk for his outstanding service. 

It was because of the hundreds of messages that they had been sent commenting on his helpfulness, incredible good cheer, and parcel based problem solving.⁠⠀

Slav has been an important part of my lockdown life here. ⁠⠀
When roads look like this, good delivery drivers are a vital (and hopefully appreciated) part of life.⁠⠀
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As my younger daughter chimed in “Go Slav!
This photo is from last week - but I see through the gloom that it has snowed overnight .⁠⠀
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This part of the garden is outside our bedroom, the beech hedge borders the road, it used to be a drive when our bedroom was a garage.⁠⠀
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Now it has a birch tree (symbolic for me of my miscarried babies, as I had to leave their actual birch trees behind when we moved here) surrounded by lots of box grown from small plants and cuttings.⁠⠀
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We buried Jasmine, my scruffy miniature schnauzer, here in the summer, so in some ways it is becoming a garden for sitting on the bench and remembering and watching the birds.  I shall ask my ever generous  friend Nadja for some snowdrops to plant in the grass.⁠⠀
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In my mind, eventually, the box balls will become like the ones on the front of @arnemaynardgardendesign book Garden Design Details - but this year they remain unclipped. ⁠⠀
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I suspect box blight in the back garden and @jekkamcvicar points out that unclipped box does not get blight.⁠⠀
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I love old gates - particularly old gates that stand in the middle of old unused spaces, leading to nowhere, keeping nothing in.⁠⠀
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A memory of another time.
Last year - while I was dyeing socks out on my Studio deck, I was also dyeing wool yarn. ⁠⠀
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Wool dyed with docks and nettle, gorse and meadowsweet, onions and plum bark all from the garden and lane.⁠⠀
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Over the winter I gathered the wool skeins together - all the soft bright colours - and knitted myself an oversized stripy jumper. ⁠⠀
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@rhiannonconnelly described it as wearing 'a hug from my garden' and I think she was spot on. ⁠⠀
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The pattern is the 'After the Rain' sweater by @heidikdesigns but with random stripes as I wasn't sure how much of each colour I had. #aftertherainsweater
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At Snapdragon Life I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

 

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