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Free plants? Read on!

We all love buying plants from the stunning, eye-catching displays at our local garden centres. Some of us also buy packets of seeds – although not all of us get around to sowing them! Earlier in the year we wrote about our foray into growing a cutting garden with seeds we’d bought, and did a follow-up to show you the arrangements we’d made with them. In case you missed either of these, you can read them by clicking the links.

There’s another way to “grow your own” – by collecting seeds from your own garden and growing new plants for free. That way you know you’ll be growing things that already thrive in your area, and for more variety, you can also rope your friends in and do a swap for seeds from their garden. It’s great fun and maybe easier than you think…. Liz, one of our team is lucky enough to spend time at RHS Garden Wisley where she is part of the team for the Members’ Seed Scheme which collects, cleans and packages seeds from the gardens. She’s put together some great tips to help you.

WHEN to collect the seeds This will usually be when they are about to be dispersed by the plant, which is when you may notice that the seed pod has dried or hardened and maybe started to split open. The seeds inside are likely to be brown or black rather than green. With Poppies you can hear the seeds rattling in the pod when they are ripe. If you collect too soon you risk being disappointed when the seeds don’t germinate - something I’ve learned that the hard way!

HOW to gather the seeds It’s often easiest to collect whole seed heads or even whole stems into a large bag, this saves spilling seeds on the ground around the plant. Foxgloves (Digitalis) are particularly good at dropping all their seed as soon as you touch the stem! Once you’ve got all the seed heads or stems from one type of plant (you don’t want to mix seed types), then shake the bag or crush the seed heads slightly to extract the seeds.

Drying Spread the seeds onto paper, somewhere they can’t be blown away and allow them to dry out for a few days. At this point, do remember to label them. If you get enthusiastic and collect from several different plants, it’s easy to lose track of which seed is which, I’ve done it! Storing Once dry, store the seeds somewhere cool and dry until you are ready to plant them. You can get small seed envelopes for about 3p each. Again, label your seed packets, and you could also write on them the best time to sow them. There’s lots of information online about the best time to sow different seeds but in general, if you’ve collected annuals like Cosmos, Marigolds or Nigella you’ll sow the seeds in the spring.

Other flowers like Foxgloves, Rudbeckia, or Echinacea can be sown in summer just after collecting, provided they can be overwintered in a sheltered position and they should be large enough to flower the following year.

I’ve had success with Delphiniums, Primula and Stachys which all take a couple of years to get to flowering size but if you want faster results, try saving runner bean and courgette seeds to sow the following year. Give it a go, plants are amazing things, some grow regardless of how well (or badly) we look after them.

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