We've been busy collecting seeds! Seeds from plants that we've pruned back for our customers, seeds from our allotment, seeds from gardens that we've visited and seeds from our sunflowers. You might remember our sunflowers and particularly the one from the Auvergne. Have a read about that here:
And we guess that was what started our adult fascination with seeds, saving them and seeing whether we could grow plants from them. As children most of us will have been aware of seeds - from blowing a dandelion clock through to collecting conkers and acorns. For now though we're thinking about what seeds are, how we can harvest our own and what plants we can use to do that.
So what is a seed?
A seed is that part of a flowering plant - the ovule - that contains an embryo or immature plant.
And here's the really fascinating bit - and the reason why bees are so vital to our gardens - the ovule plays a vital part in plant reproduction. It sits within that part of the flower that attracts those bees. And that's important as the bees will be busy buzzing from flower to flower, plant to plant and as they do so they'll be leaving grains of pollen that will begin the reproductive process.
Seeds also include any propagative part of a plant, including tubers (seed potatoes) and bulbs (tulips and daffodils) that are preserved for growing a new crop.
What do we need to do?
All of that might sound quite complicated but as far as we're concerned - and whilst we need to have an understanding of how some plants reproduce - from the point of view of the importance of bees for instance - seeds needn't be, and aren't a dark art.
As September draws to an end we can spend some autumnal afternoons in our garden collecting seeds from those plants we've enjoyed earlier in the year, and if that's not enough we can spend evenings thumbing through the seed catalogues that will be starting to land on our doormats over the coming weeks.
We do both. We wander round our garden and take the increasingly majestic looking flower heads. And then in evening we light the fire, pour a small glass of the rhubarb and ginger gin that we made a few months back and see how the seedsmen are trying to tempt us this year...........
How do we collect seeds?
Collecting seeds is easy! All you need to do is:
Choose a day when the weather has been warm and dry for a few days or weeks previously.
If you need to wait then gather up your tools - secateurs or snips, a trug or containers to keep the flower heads or seeds in and a pen and paper so you can make a note of what you've gathered.
Ideally we need the flower heads to be a dry as possible. If the flower heads are dry then you should be able to gentle tap them and hear the seeds rattling around inside, or they might even fall out there and then - have your container ready just in case!
If the flower heads aren't quite sufficiently dry then you'll need to take them home and gently dry them. We hang ours from a rack that we then hang in the kitchen window - but anywhere that gets some gentle warmth will work.
Then when the flower heads are dry all you need to do is place a piece of paper on the kitchen table and gently shake the flower heads and watch the seeds fall out - hopefully onto the paper and not all over the floor!
Once you have your seeds you have two choices. We'd recommend labelling some envelopes and then putting them somewhere safe until you're ready to sow them. If however you're wanting a complete surprise - or you actually want a wildflower or cottage garden border - you can simply mix up the seeds from similar plants - Nigella, Californian Poppies etc - and leave it all to chance.
Here are some lupins that we grew at the allotment. The seed pods could have done with a few more days in the sun - but rain was forecast so we picked them a few weeks back. We've simply left them in an old wooden seed tray on the kitchen window sill and they're drying out nicely. It'll soon be time to gently open up the pods, remove the seeds and pop them into a labelled envelope.
And that's exactly what we're doing with the mix of flower heads that you can see in the main picture. We took all of those from a client's garden in Bath and we're now drying out sea holly, artificial artichoke, lavender and wisteria.
Now we don't really know why we're so fascinated with the sunflowers - and particularly the one from the Auvergne that we affectionately call "Le Frenchie". Perhaps it's the memory of taking the Truglets to see Uncle Matthew, Tata Celine and les cousins in France. Or perhaps it was the way in which we sneaked into the field and acquired the flower head. Or how, having lovingly brought it all the way back to Somerset we didn't really look after it and when we came to shake off the seeds we ended up with more husk than identifiable seeds.
But we didn't let that defeat us, We planted up the messy mix of possible seeds and definitely husks earlier this year. And we - and some of our neighbours - were rewarded with Auvergne sunflowers on Alexandra Road! Few of them matched the splendour of those that we'd found nodding in France but we managed to grow a progeny that vaguely looked like it's European ancestors.
The first image is of the parent plant in France in 2019. The second image is of the drying flower head from the plant we managed to grow. You wouldn't believe that the two were related would you?
This demonstrates a few things:
The importance of looking after your flower heads and seeds - we left the flower head much to it's own devices in a cold, dark garage. Hardly like its growing conditions in the south of France we know.......
The need to look after the actual seeds once the flower head has dried and not leaving them on the flower head for too long.
How much work and effort goes into the actual seeds that we can buy already cleaned and in some cases, dressed. Someone else has done the work for us and all we need to do is follow the instructions on the back of the packet and sow them at the right time.
But then slightly contradicting the third point, how much fun you can get from experimenting and trying to grow plants from seeds that you've collected yourself!
In contrast here are a few images of our own sunflower that we grew as part of a competition we ran earlier this year and the flower heads that are now drying in the hall way.
There are two types of sunflower including Little Dorrit and Giant Yellow. Once the heads are dry and we've harvested the seeds we'll decide what we'll do with them - seeds for the birds in the winter months or seeds that we'll plant up next year or maybe a bit of both!
It's not just flowers!
As a general rule anything with flowers is capable of producing a seed that can be used to grow a new plant. That takes us back to bees, pollination and the reproductive cycle of plants but for now let's go with that and let's consider vegetables.
We mentioned tubers earlier and seed potatoes. Try as hard as we do when we clear that part of the allotment where we've grown our International Kidneys that year we always miss one or two tiddlers. And yes, the following year in a bed where we've not planted potatoes we always get a few unwanted rogue haulms breaking through amongst whatever we've sown as part of that year's crop rotation!
Here's an image of our own Purple Cascade and Borlotti beans that we grew this year. Now sometimes we grow them to eat - whole as a sliced bean. Sometimes we discard the seed pods (the clue is in the name) and dry the beans to add to a winter soup.
This year though we're taking it one step further. We're drying the seed pods, we'll then take out the beans and once they're dry we'll pop them in to an envelope, label it up and see what we get when we sow those beans - as seeds - next year!
Now all of that might sound like hardwork. It might be easier to spend an evening looking through a seed catalogue or looking at the racks of seeds in your local supermarket, DIY store or garden centre.
Bit is that as much fun? Or as rewarding? Ok so some of what you lovingly harvest, dry, label and look after might not produce a plant that looks as good as the one that you remember from the previous year - yes, we're back to Le Frenchie - but does that mean you learn from that and try again, or simply go back to the seed catalogues?
We'll be honest. We do both. Where we haven't tried seed collection from plants we've grown, or where it seems too challenging - we had thought about collecting seeds from our Purple Haze carrots that had set seed - we order online and get our seeds delivered to us in the spring. But where we have some flower heads that are just begging to be harvested then we give it a go!
It might work. It might not. But it'll be fun, it's relatively easy and if it does work then we'll be rewarded with new plants that will have cost us nothing! And will give us something that we'll be able to talk about this time next year.............