Papery trumpets of Bells of Ireland
One of the best things about Autumn is it’s incredible bounty. I spend most of my time here at The Fig Tree harvesting from the fig orchard and pootling down to Te Mata Figs to drop off the produce. I also spend a lot of time harvesting from the other trees around the place; walnut, persimmon, quince, feijoa and lime. It feels never ending as I scoop up a glut one day only to find a heap more the next. I’ve lived in this property long enough now to have my Go To chutney and preserving recipes and I will start sharing some of these as I make them. However, the other job I want to share is one that I’ve only just recently got into and that is seed saving.
The architectural seed head of Scabiosa Starball
Saving seed makes economic sense (especially if you’re gardening on a large scale) but it also makes horticultural sense. I have found that the seed I have saved has a very high germination rate because it’s fresher. I save seed in the autumn and use it the following spring. This is a real plus point for saving your own. It’s also really easy. All you need are some paper bags, pen, scissors and a bit of time on a warm, dry day and you’re good to go.
So how do you save seed? Some plants will make a seed pod, some will contain seed within the dying part of the flower and others will have seeds within fruit or berries. The key is to leave the flower on the plant until it goes brown and a bit crunchy. If you harvest too soon the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate. If you’re really organised you can tie a piece of string or ribbon to particularly strong looking specimens so ensure strong seeds. However, I find that I collect and sow so much seed that I tend not to worry about this too much. Instinctively I tend to go for the larger heads anyway. Some flowers make it really easy-peasy and obvious where their seed is stored like poppies, calendular and nigella.
The captivating seed head of Nigella
Nigella has the most stunning seed head that brings real interest and texture to posies. It’s well worth growing either the blue or the white variety because it’s flower is just as pretty with it’s feathery fronds as the seed pod. You effectively get two plants in one.
Inside a Nigella seed pod
Split open the papery casing and you will find hundreds of tiny seeds just ready to be saved for next year. I often sow Nigella directly in autumn after harvesting seed. It’s very hardy and can withstand a bit of cold.
Unripe seeds within an Honesty seed pod
Honesty is another fascinating seed pod. With the light behind it you can clearly see the large round seeds within. Like a little alien life force – it’s really beautiful.
Honesty seeds ready to be collected
Wait a bit longer and the seed pod fades from bright green to brown and separates so the seeds can slip innocuously out.
Once the seeds have slipped away it continues to fade to a silvery, gossamer thin disc – an iridescent moon – perfect in an autumnal arrangement.
Other flowers like snapdragons, scabious and amaranthus are easy too – it’s just a case of waiting for the seed to dry off. Just pop them in a paper bag to dry and all the seed will be caught within the bag.
Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding with long tendrils of seed
Once you’ve grown amaranthus once you will never have to buy seed ever again. The long tail like catkins are packed with millions of tiny seed. These just crumble away when rubbed gently between finger and thumb. If seed doesn’t fall away easily then it’s not ready to harvest.
Tiny amaranthus seed
Make sure you harvest the amaranthus or you will have a jungle next spring!
Scabious Deep Waters seed pod
The beautiful seed pods of scabious Deep Waters are almost other worldly. As well as saving the seed you can also get another flush of flowers by giving the whole plant a haircut after it has flowered. Scabious is a hardy little trouper!
Dried Bells of Ireland
There are some flowers who hide their seeds a little bit more than others; namely Bells of Ireland and Zinnia. I love both of these flowers but am often frustrated at the poor germination rates. This year I thought I’d up my chances by saving fresh seed to see if this helps. So grab yourself a handful of Bells and I’ll show you how easy it is to save.
Dark circle of seed of Bells of Ireland
Once the bracts have turned papery you can see the dark centre. This circle makes up four seeds each of which is a triangle – like a piece of pie.
Peel bag the papery skin and watch out for the spike behind the bract and tip the seed out into a bag.
Perfect triangular seeds of Bells of Ireland
I am always fascinated by the perfect triangular shape of the seed and the neat way it forms a complete circle until broken apart – very clever.
Zinnia Lime Green with crispy petals
With zinnia you might think that the centre contains the seeds but in actual fact it’s the dried up petals. Simply snip the petals leaving just a tiny bit to hold onto. Then pull gently and you have seeds.
Top seed Saving Tips
Never collect seed on a rainy day or when the dew is still on the grass
If seed doesn’t fall away easily either snip the whole flower and store in a bag to catch the seed or leave a bit longer
Always use a paper bag to store your seed and keep them away from moisture
Don’t forget to label the bag with the variety and the date. You’ll think that you’ll remember but you won’t!
If you have a glut of seeds try swapping them for other varieties with friends or google Seed Swapping Forums for one local to you
So have a go at saving seed. You’ll find yourself noticing that the fading beauty of flowers is just enchanting and save a bit of cash too.