A TIME TO GATHER SEED
The end of February and the beginning of March can be brutally hot in Adelaide.
But while we humans are still in full summer mode, the garden is showing signs
of winding down towards autumn, with the quince trees heavy with fruit and my
favourite annuals setting seed.
It may seem like stating the obvious, but the only financially viable way to
fill a garden to bursting point is to start your own plants from seed. Think
of Gertrude Jekyll and her ‘drifts’ of colour - at garden centre prices, drifts
are beyond expensive.
Ordering packets of seed from specialist growers and waiting for them to arrive
in the post is one of life’s small pleasures, but for the thrifty gardener the
real joy comes from harvesting your own seed and sowing it on in the following
There are a few annuals I will always want in the garden, like the chocolate
in the main picture. Over the past two years they’ve
begun to appear of their own accord, but although I love self-sown plants and
almost always leave them where they choose to grow, the display is never as
intense as when I go to the trouble of raising stock from seed and planting
It’s the same with clary sage, which is perhaps my all-time favourite of the
scented herbs. Towards the end of summer, small self-sown plants begin to pop
up, and as the tall flower spikes dry out I squeeze a few of their papery cups
to make them spray their small, glossy, brown seeds. The rest of the seed
heads are collected and stored for the future, and each autumn I sow a tray of
seeds and use the new plants to fill the gaps.
I am patiently awaiting the flowering of my latest batch of seedlings. The
is a late summer favourite. Unfortunately, the on-line
store I ordered them from seems to have disappeared, so it is more important
than ever to conserve the seed.
In a busy life you need to set up a system of raising seedlings that makes it
easy and time-effective, so that sowing a tray becomes a five-minute job. My
own method includes a three-tier plant stand with shelves wide enough to
accommodate the seed trays. I keep it close to where I store the potting mix,
and the fledgling plants are all in one place for ease of watering, for
pricking out and potting on. The whole stand can be moved into the shade if
the weather is too hot.
In the collection department, I make sure I have bundles of blank seed packets
handy. Used envelopes will also do, and it’s a good second career for them.
The main thing is to name and date the seed, and also to put a reminder in the
diary for when you should plant it.
Allowing plants to run to seed is also a great way of diverting pests away from
other plants. The adult pest will feed on the flowers and lay their eggs in the
unwanted, gone-to-seed plants. Vegetables gone to seed are particularly
attractive to them, and I let lovage and chard to go this way, although I’ve
heard that dill also works well.
And finally, if you end up with too much seed for your own use, and you will,
investigate local seed-swap schemes. Happy gathering!
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