Some of my most cherished plants came to me as gifts of seeds from friends. A rosy throated, creamy white foxglove originated in a friend’s garden in Brookfield, a floriferous tall, pink balsam is from another’s in Southbridge and a deliciously scented lilac tinged datura came from Leicester. I enjoy all these plants not only for their beauty but also for their memory of times spent in good company.

Balsam from Rocky

Old-fashioned pink balsam. Photo by D. Pettinelli

About this time I start collecting seed for next year’s gardens. Saving seed doesn’t require that much effort for most plants and I personally like the feeling of truly self-perpetuating garden.

Not all seeds can be successfully saved. Hybrids, for instance are a carefully controlled cross between two different parents. If you collect the seeds and sow them, they may resemble one of the parent plants or if another cross was made, say by a bee during pollination, they may be something completely different. This is why you find odd looking squashes coming out of the compost pile. While you can plant your saved hybrid seed, you just won’t know what you’re getting.

Non-hybrid or open-pollinated plants will come true from seed. These are generally older varieties of flowers and vegetables that were often grown in our grandparents’ gardens and usually are referred to in this day of modern hybrids as heirlooms. Some excellent sources for heirloom flower seeds are Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org), Seeds of Change (www.seedsofchange.com), Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseed.com) and Select Seeds (www.selectseeds.com).

browallia blue

Browallia from Select Seeds. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Numerous garden flowers offer seed saving opportunities. Vigorous self-seeders like nicotiana, calendula, cynoglossum, bachelor buttons, ammi, sunflowers, celsosia, nigella, snapdragons, tall verbena and cosmos, I just let do their thing in the garden and transplant wayward seedlings each spring. These are hardly annuals whose seeds can survive the winter. The ones to collect are the half hardy and tender annuals that would never make through on their own.

Nicotiana w purple

White and lavender nicotiana. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Some to consider are marigolds, zinnias, four o’clocks, morning glories, salvias, petunias, nasturtiums, sweet William, thunbergia, celosia and balsam. Finding the seeds may be the hardest part of the task for novices. If you started them from seed you may remember what it looked like – tiny black beads, large and rounded, long and flat, or thin and papery. Take apart a few dead flowers and look for the same type of seed you planted.

marigold seeds

Marigold seeds. Photo by D. Pettineli

Ideally, seeds should mature on the plant. If frost threatens, cover the plants or pull the whole plant up and hang it in the basement until seed heads have dried. Collect your seeds and let them air dry for a few days before storing in coin envelops or even better, airtight containers like small zippered-lock bags or clean pill bottles. Remove as much of the chaff surrounding the seeds as possible as it may hold moisture and cause your seeds to mold. Be sure to label them and keep in a cool, dry place until ready to sow next year.

coin envelopes

Seeds can be stored in labelled coin envelops. Photo by D. Pettinelli

Seeds from tomatoes need a wet processing. Let the tomato thoroughly ripen, then cut it open and scoop the seeds into a bowl. Add a little water and stir. Let set a few days but add more water if necessary to cover seeds. Viable seed will sink to the bottom. Pour off the debris on top and check to see that the gel that surrounds each seed is dissipated. If not, repeat the process. When ready I just stick the seeds on waxed paper to dry and store in labeled airtight containers. Serious seed savers might want to check out books like Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. There may be newer books out there but I have found her advice to be helpful and accurate.

Dawn P.