Now is the perfect time for collecting seeds from your garden. It’s free, it doesn’t take much time and is rewarding. At the moment I am collecting peony seeds which like a number of seeds need a period of 3 months in the cold before they can germinate.
Once you have collected your harvest of seeds (1 variety at a time) you need to clean and store the seeds for the winter. Paper bags are the best in my opinion as they allow the seeds to dry out, plastic bags and containers are not ideal. The reason plastic is not ideal is because if they seeds are not 100% dry then they will rot in plastic and secondly we don’t like plastic as we are aiming for a happier planet – right?
The size of the seeds determines the treatment. With larger seeds that you can see with the naked eye you can and should separate the seed from the chaff, with smaller seeds I just remove the bulkier debris and then store in a paper bag which I hang up in the cellar. Don’t forget to label your bags with a good marker that isn’t going to fade so that you can read it in the Spring when you come to sow them.
If you are unsure of the germination requirements of your different types of seeds then you can look it up on the Internet. For example, some seeds can be sown straight away like Agapanthus and others like Magnolia’s and Peonies need to be exposed to 3 months of cold weather which causes a chemical reaction in the seed before it can germinate. you can emulate this by either storing your seeds in the refrigerator for 3 months or outside if you have a sheltered place either in a packet or sown in a pot.
Sowing seeds is always going to be a ‘hit or miss’ process and that is why plants produce so many seeds, if every seed germinated plants would produce fewer, the best you can do is to try to mimic what happens in nature. There are a number of good books available on this subject but I would recommend a book by Carol Klein (only in English) called ‘Grow Your Own Garden’ it has a plethora of useful information on collecting seeds, cleaning, storing and germinating plus easy to follow guides for taking plant cuttings. ISBN number ISBN978-1-84607-847-7.
I very much like the idea of harvesting plant seed from your own garden and exchanging plant seeds with friends and neighbours, it’s how many old varieties of plants have survived.
On the subject of Peonies, you can collect the seeds when the seed pods start to split open, don’t be tempted to do so before as they will not be ripe and therefore not viable. If you have multiple varieties of Peonies in your garden then you will get cross-pollination and seedlings may not be true to the parent, I don’t mind this as I like a surprise. If you want an exact replica of the parent plant then you need to hand pollinate each flower and then exclude bees and pollinating insects from the flowers.
I find that the germination of Peony seeds is a bit of a lottery and some years it works really well and other years not, just keep at it and you will be rewarded with your own free plants.
Remember that once germinated Peonies do not like to have their roots disturbed so I would recommend sowing in trays with individual cells which you can then pot on when they are dormant. The same is true for Magnolias and oriental poppies.
Expect to wait up to 3 years before you get your first flowers (It’s a good exercise in patience!)
Assuming all has gone to plan you will have your own free Peonies to fill your garden and the gardens of family and friends in no time at all. There are 2 types of Peonies and I would just like talk about these briefly. The 2 pictures below were taken in Spring here in the Moosbach Garden and show the 2 different types, namely tree Peonies and perennial Peonies. Although they are both Peonies they must be treated very differently, tree Peonies produces their flowers on the shoots of the previous years growth, if you cut them back in Autumn you will not get any flowers the following year and you may very well kill the tree. Perennial Peonies (which are more common in gardens) die back in Autumn and produces new flowering shoots from the crown the following Spring, you can cut off the dead leaves.
If you are temped to try growing some tree Peonies in your garden then remember to give them some space as they will eventually grow to about 2 metres in height and width. They are real star attractions in the garden when they are in bloom and well worth it.
Pictured above, a tree Peony from the Moosbach Garden with pale yellow flowers.