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Going to SeedCreated by Verity in Being You, Home and Garden
Aeons ago I used to help count money for staff weekly wage packets, ed before putting the cash into special brown envelopes. How quaint that seems when these days even cheques are old fashioned. Yet every October I bless the fact that you can still buy small, generic square wage envelopes. Because autumn is seed collecting time.
There’s something primeval about collecting too – even just flower seeds – a sense of security, an insurance against the coming cold. For our ancestors in temperate zones it was of life or death importance, carrying over food crops to the spring. As well as grain, peas and particularly beans were staples (hence the expression, ‘couldn’t give a bean’). They were easy to dry and keep, providing food through the winter, with the rest put aside for planting next year. And if, following good harvests, there was enough to re-sow only those from the very best plants, crops were gradually improved, giving rise to different varieties.
For plants, setting seed to reproduce is their whole raison d’etre. Which is why deadheading keeps a plant blooming. We might regard the flowers as the object of the exercise, but only when the plant produces seed does it say to itself, Right, job done.
The word ‘seedy’ has unflattering connotations. And it’s true some things look awful when they’re going over. But Clematis tangutica’s yellow flowers keep coming while the first ones are setting into shaggy, strokable seedheads, and I love the combination. A few plants are even grown for the seedheads more than the flowers, such as Fibigia clypeata from southern Europe, a member of the mustard family. The not very special yellow flowers in May on eighteen inch stalks develop into strange flat furry ‘ears’, giving rise to the common name of Roman Shields. (The Romans sported furry shields? What a lot I don’t know.)
That something as elaborately patterned as a Meadow Fritillary flower can grow from a little flake of a seed is nothing short of miraculous. And who would suspect, looking at the plainness of an acorn, that this little power pack has the potential to grow into a thousand year old oak tree. Most seeds don’t fulfil their destiny of course, being a welcome source of food for everything from birds to humans. Wheat, barley, oats, apples, nuts, grapes, rice, maize, etc. were all meant to grow into plants, not be eaten. Although juicy berries such as blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants and mistletoe are actually designed to tempt the appetite of some creature which will obligingly deposit the seed a good distance away from the parent. Everyone wins. Apart from us gardeners when brambles sneakily spring up unnoticed in some quiet corner.
So what to do with the contents of my wage envelopes? The Hardy Plant Society’s seed exchange is the answer, and there’s a sense of satisfaction as well as duty in sending off the seed by the end of October. (With some kept back for insurance – more than once I’ve lost things to a harsh winter, but pleasingly been able to resurrect them by finding that little brown wage packet filed away in an index card box.) Many of the unusual plants in the garden were grown from seed obtained from the Hardy Plant Society exchange in the past, and it’s satisfying to be able to pass them on to other members in my turn. Garden centres mostly sell the same range of plants these days, so it’s a thrill to be able to grow something different.
People have always swapped seeds. It’s good that it still goes on.
by Alex Pankhurst