May 29, 2024


Taste the Home & Environment

Start small: why growing from seeds is the best way to garden | Gardens

My name is Allan. I am an addict. A seedaholic, to tell the truth. From here on in, for the next few months, I’ll lie awake wondering where my next hit is coming from. No stash is ever enough. There is no seed sobriety.

I have dealers everywhere. From local stores. From far away. All over the internet. From midsummer on, I’ll carry paper bags or envelopes in case I spot a perfect flower or plant on a wall, on a roadside. I’ll wait until the dried head forms. I stalk seed that isn’t mine.

Allan plants broad bean seeds. Photograph: © Howard Sooley

I have drawers and tins, bowls, bags and boxes of the stuff. And I can’t stop buying more. I have been like this for much of my life. Since I first copped from my foster father. He gave my brother and I each a square-metre piece of land and a packet of seed. Nasturtiums for me and marigolds for Christopher. Child-proof, fool-proof, flower kiddie crack. I grow them still. Everywhere.

Bright, prolific, forgiving, pretty much guaranteed to grow. Start with these two. Choose your colours, find a supplier. I go for purest orange, single-petal calendula (pot marigold), though I am also drawn to the modern “flashback” style. Calendula seeds look like tiny sea fossils. The flowers are like the kind that children draw.

Nasturtiums come in many colours and survive on near-neglect. I buy many varieties but, for starters, I’d go for climbing nasturtiums from Ben at Higgledy Garden, my favourite flower-seed dealer.

My daughter Kala lives just a few doors from us and we always sow Ben’s half-hardy annual seed collection (over-generously topped up with more) on or around her birthday in May. Ben is good on Instagram, too.

Calendula, one of Allan’s favourite flowers to grow.
Calendula, one of Allan’s favourite flowers to grow. Photograph: © Howard Sooley

My other favoured seed supplier, though maybe more for herbs and vegetables than flowers, is Paolo at Franchi: Seeds of Italy. His colourful racks of packs are often to be seen in Italian delicatessens and in many good garden centres. The amounts are generous, the prices modest, the germination super-reliable. Check through the various sections online (there is an Eden Project collection, a chef selection, and I plunder the Golden Line for wild and semi-wild flowers).

Much as I need a regular hit of packet seed, a plea here, too, for saving your own. It’s the most satisfying fix of all. And honestly easy. For peas and beans, say, leave a few of the fattest, happiest pods to dry on the vine. Pop the seed into a paper envelope or bag, store in a cool, dry place. Done.

For leaf vegetables, say, beetroot or chicory, amaranth, choose a handsome healthy plant or three and simply leave them to live a longer life, wait for flower, for them to go to seed. Shake, as before, into a paper bag or envelope, store, sort and leave to dry fully.

For flowers, the same: mark your selection of perfect blooms, watch them fade and dry, sort and keep in a cool place.

Ripe beetroot from Allan’s allotment.
Ripe beetroot from Allan’s allotment. Photograph: © Howard Sooley

Start simply at first; stick to annuals, such as calendula, nasturtiums, poppies, nigella. If in doubt, there are many specialist sites and films on the internet.

It won’t stop you buying pretty packets. It might even deepen an addiction. But, for me, growing flowers or food from seed I’ve saved is as good as gardening gets.

If it all sounds too much fuss (and, honestly, I understand), then pop into your local garden centre, shop online, start with a few flowers or veg you like the look of. Most young kids love growing sunflowers and picking beans and peas. You can fill a small garden or lots of plant pots for around £20. You don’t have to be Monty Don.

Best suppliers

Higgledy Garden

Benjamin Ranyard is a flower grower based in Cornwall who specialises in seeds that produce quality cut flowers which last in the vase, grow to a good height, and have strong stems.

Franchi Seeds

This is the world’s oldest family-run seed company. It’s based in Bergamo and run in the UK by Paolo Arrigo, cookbook author and winner of the Slow Food Person of the Year 2020.

Vital Seeds

Based in south Devon, this firm sells “open-pollinated” seeds grown without herbicides, fungicides or insecticides. Vital is part of the Open Source Seed Initiative, which maintains access to plant genetic resources.

Plants of Distinction

A small, family-run business based in Suffolk that sells a wide range of heritage and heirloom flowers and vegetables.

Brown Envelope Seeds

This West Cork business sells open pollination organic vegetable seeds.

Copenhagen Seeds

Signe Voltelen is an architect and seed farmer focusing on heirloom vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. All are harvested without GMOs or pesticides.

Seed Co-operative

Started in 2014 by Hans Steenbergen as an initiative of the Biodynamic Association, supported by Garden Organic and the Organic Research Centre.