Saved seeds 2018

Seeds and Notes

Ever since midsummer, I’ve been saving seeds. First, the dark blue delphinium finished its first flush of bloom and formed seed pods on the single stalk I didn’t cut down. Then the aconite “Stainless Steel,” which goes dormant soon after it finishes blooming. This year it produced some seeds before checking out, so I saved a few. Then the irresistible chunky seeds of the mysterious and beautiful cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.” I made sure to retrieve a few before they fell (I’m anticipating random seedlings to pop up soon; the problem is they don’t always survive the winter). Last week I cut the plants down and shook out the remaining seeds onto a white cloth. Now I have more than enough to keep this intriguing plant going in my garden.

I even squeezed out some tomato seeds and kept them and their attached pulp sitting around in a jar, supposedly fermenting, a supposedly necessary process. I’m pretty sure the seeds I grew this year’s tomato plants from were ones I dried and packaged several years ago, without any fermentation. We’ll see if the new ones are viable when spring rolls around again.

Pacific Coast iris seed packet, Libertia peregrinans seedsI collected various other seeds in my garden and elsewhere. Libertia peregrinans, for example — a plant I’ve lusted after for years but haven’t managed to find in commerce. Last summer I encountered some in a boulevard planting and nabbed a single seed pod. And I bought a packet of seeds of our native Pacific Coast Irises while touring a notable local garden. These two plants will be new to me, so both a challenge and (maybe) a thrill.

I’m actually of mixed minds about saving seeds. Putting them in labelled envelopes is only a beginning, not a completion. Saving seeds means I can grow an annual again next year, or grow more perennials if I want to. They do peter out or meet with misfortunes, so it’s reassuring to know I have a handful of their descendants safe in an envelope.

Saved seeds, cerinthe seeds, beach pea seeds 2018But seeds in an envelope don’t turn into plants all by themselves. Unless I remember them at the correct time of year and expose them to conditions that will cause them to germinate, they’ll just sit in their envelopes until they lose their viability. Turning seeds into plants means rounding up suitable containers and soil mix, putting the seeds on or in the soil, and exposing them to light (or not) at the optimal temperature for germination. And germination is only the beginning. Tiny seedlings need a lot of attention if they’re not to expire from damping off, drying out, or lack of adequate light. And that’s while they’re still in their first little pot in the house. Further operations are needed before a mature, healthy plant is added to the garden.

Writing notebookStory ideas in notebooks are like saved seeds. Just as the seeds are unrealized potential until planted in damp earth, the ideas are dead scribbles until they are unpacked and spun out in words. The seeds I gathered will be safe in their envelopes and repurposed pill bottles until next spring, but I will use the dark time of year to revisit and ponder my story ideas, eventually setting pen to paper to begin the process of creation. The requirements for success are more nebulous than those for growing plants. Time and stillness, the right music, an overheard remark, the light falling through the window at the perfect angle, the caprices of mood and mind. Maybe something will come of these conjunctions — ideas that will bloom and bear fruit in the form of stories, or even another novel. Maybe.


  1. I used to save seeds a lot, and my garden shed still has various bundles of those small packets with the scrawled and fading writing tucked away in the corners. I have a terrible confession to make. I nearly always forget about them… Those that I do try to grow, usually don’t, for some reason. Thank God that my writing ‘seeds’ have better results!

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    1. Nature’s profligacy ensures there are way more seeds than necessary. Most don’t grow into mature plants. I have a whole lot of old seeds I’m going to fling about the garden. Who knows–a few might even grow. Good to hear your writing is bountiful!

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  2. I really enjoyed this post, Audrey. And I collect seeds too, but just a few kinds – lettuce, parsley and tomato.
    I was interested in your tomato fermentation method. I’ll be interested in seeing how that works out. I usually just scrape the seeds onto a few layers of tissues. Let them dry out into the tissues then pack them away in a dry container. To plant, I just rip the tissue/seed apart, place in a pot, sprinkle with soil and water and…bang. 🙂

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    1. Your method for tomato seeds is one I’ve used myself, with success. But I remembered hearing or reading that fermentation is the way to go, and if you think about it, something like that would happen in nature — overripe tomato falls to the ground and rots (ferments?), and the seeds sprout eventually. But garden tomatoes aren’t really wild plants any more. I’ll see what happens with those seeds next spring.

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  3. I love the ‘story to seed’ analogy, Audrey. My mother always travels with a tiny pair of scissors – or failing that, a sharp finger nail – to nip off something useful. She can be very bold with it!

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