Seeds of Summer
As we enter late summer and the garden relaxes into autumn, many of our earlier-flowering plants will be completing the final stage in their yearly lifecycle; they will be setting seed. Collecting and sowing seed is also a great way to grow new plants and engage children in the magic of plants and nature.
You’d be amazed what success you can have with freshly collected seed. The key is to collect the seed when it is ripe. Green seed pods will mature to brown or black and start to open up, meaning the seed is ripe and good to collect. As seed in fruit is naturally dispersed by animals eating them, when the fruit is ripe the seed is generally ripe too; if you see the birds eating the fruit, get in there before it’s all gone. For plants producing bursting seed pods such as sweet peas, put a sheet around the base of the plant and give it a good shake. Plants like poppies and foxgloves will slowly open their capsules, to sprinkle seed around as the wind rattles them, so snip of the capsule and direct-sow the seed or tip it into an envelope for storing. Mature pine cones can also be brought indoors to open up in the warmth, releasing their inner seeds.
Some things will not come ‘true from seed’, meaning the appearance of their offspring may be different from that of the parents. Sometimes the new plants are inferior, but often they are all beautifully unique.
One thing to be aware of are infertile hybrids. These have been bred not to set viable seed. If you look the plant up on the RHS website it will tell you whether or not the plant can be grown from seed. For example peppermint is sterile, as it’s a hybrid of two different species - watermint and spearmint, just like a mule is hybrid between a horse and donkey.
Many seeds do best if sown immediately when fresh in autumn, although most will only pop up in spring. If you do want to store the seed, put them in a labelled envelope and store somewhere cool a dry. A fridge is ideal as it will mimic the winter conditions many seeds need before they can germinate.
Generally speaking, native or near-native plants are the best choice if you want to avoid the faff of pricking out and potting on seedlings. Instead, sown the seeds directly where you want them to grow, or into a patch of open ground where you will transplant them into their final place from once they form sturdy little plants by spring next year - this is called a ‘nursery bed’. Primroses, foxgloves, honesty, poppies are all very rewarding and easy. Clear the soil of weeds, rake it to a nice crumbly texture before sprinkling the seeds on and very lightly raking them in, and then let nature take its course but try to keep it weed-free. Look up online what the seedlings will look like, so you don’t weed them out too!