Hartley Magazine

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The magic of seeds

Jean Vernon explores the magic of the humble seed.

Home saved borage seeds for bees

There’s magic in our gardens that is often undervalued. It’s something that gardeners, farmers and growers across the world are mesmerized by. That a tiny speck of seed can grow into a fully formed plant. It never fails to amaze me and is just one of joys of gardening.

It’s time to cherish the humble seed. Whether you are indulging in the pick and mix of the seed catalogues, or saving your own from your homegrown plants, seeds are the starting block of gardening.

Growing from seed is one of the most satisfying and cost effective ways to fill your garden with plants. Many plants once established will actually self-seed, dropping their tiny packs of life into the soil, gravel or paths beneath to germinate into the next generation. And let’s face it, if nature can do that without any mollycoddling with heat and light and additional sustenance there is absolutely no reason why we can’t grow from seeds ourselves.

Sow easy

Closeup of borage seeds

Some seeds and plants are so tough and easy to grow that they require little effort. You can even sow them outside in the cold damp soil. That does put them at risk of hungry leaf munchers, so if you want better results I’d sow them in pots in a cold greenhouse up on greenhouse staging where you can keep an eye on them. If you want a simple way to choose easy to grow seeds then look out for those branded as good for children, it means they are pretty much guaranteed to grow and a great place to gain your confidence.

Follow the very simple rules and you can’t go wrong. First use the instructions on the seed packet to help you sow your seeds. This will help you understand the very best time to sow for the best results.

Borage seeds drying inside an envelope

Use clean pots with fresh seed or multipurpose compost.

Sprinkle a few seeds thinly over the surface of the compost. Cover with a thin layer of crumbled compost.

Water gently with tepid water.

Place in a bright, light and cool place to germinate at the correct time of year.

When the seedling roots fill the pots they will show through the drainage holes at the bottom, this is a good time to pot them up and thin them into individual pots to grow on.

Seed orders

There’s no doubt being organized and getting your seed order in early stands you in good stead for the season. Actually there’s little nicer than a well-stocked box of seeds ready for the year ahead. On a cold winter’s night, browsing the seed catalogues lifts the spirits and brings the spring closer. Last year as lockdown kicked in gardeners and those with gardens turned to their plots for a variety of reasons. Those lucky enough to have a garden and a greenhouse were blessed with everything they needed to grow at least a few ingredients for the kitchen. Most gardeners have a stash of unsown seeds, but the new gardeners were shopping for seed. Like the proverbial toilet paper, flour and yeast, it didn’t take long for seeds to be another victim of panic buying. Seed companies were shutting down websites to catch up with orders. Hot seed choices sold like hot cakes and compost was stripped from the garden centres.

Seed gifts

Stash of seeds for next season

I can’t think of a better little present to give to friends and family. A thoughtful packet of seed popped in the Christmas card, or rolled into a cracker is a great way to spread the love. You can buy fabulous seed collections to suit every taste and gardening need. If you are buying for a new gardener then offer an hours free tuition and have a seed sowing session as part of the gift. A packet of seed is a gift that keeps giving and it’s a great way of sharing your passion and expertise with others.

Saving seed

I’ve got a bit obsessed with saving seed this year. I’m not sure if it’s because seed was in short supply last year, or if it’s because I’m a bit more focused and organized than normal. I’ve been carefully collecting the ripening seed of many of my favourite bee plants. Borage has been a particular favourite for me, along with the Viper’s bugloss. Both set seed very generously, self-seed around the mother plant and keep going later into the season. And both are exceptional summer plants, offering copious amounts of nectar regularly to a variety of pollinators. They flower for months and are great for pots and planters as well as beds and borders. I’ve already potted up dozens of self-seeded echium for next summer and the borage seed is drying waiting to be packaged into envelopes to share far and wide. It’s a simple way to share the love of gardening and a great way to fill the garden at minimal cost too.

Sowing now

Leaf cutter bee on borage

And of course there are still seeds that you can sow now for a head start for spring, or a little gently winter cropping. Sweet peas are a good plant to sow ahead of the season. The autumn sown plants are stronger and romp away when the temperatures rise again in spring. Similarly broadbeans will do the same, though these (and NOT the sweet peas) are a source of edible leaves for winter salads and shoots for stir-fries. I’ve got a few modules of winter leaves, all sprouted from seed, some pots of wild rocket and an eclectic mix of kale, 9 star broccoli seedlings as well as overwintered herbs that will add power packed flavour punches to winter salads. Plus there are some seeds of a mix of micro greens that will grow bigger and better in some compost and offer flavor bites to sandwiches and salads.