Collecting seeds from your garden

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.

Growing plants from seed


I thought we’d take a break from roses and talk about the joy of growing your own plants from seed.

Some people, myself included, are really happy and fulfilled by buying a plant that has been reared and cared for by somebody else but there is something to be said for growing your own plants from seed.  The benefits are multifold.  You have the joy of perusing a multitude of gardening catalogues, choosing plant varieties that look stunning, producing a wish list which is way too long and then reducing it down to a level that you can realistically cope with and then finally ordering the seeds. It’s the perfect pastime for those early months of the year when gardening outside is impractical because the ground is too hard, too wet or covered in snow.

I sow seeds throughout January and February in one of our spare rooms, using a couple of tables with overhead strip lights ( I don’t have a greenhouse).  I hear some of you saying “Isn’t that way too early?”, well my argument is that it gives the young plants time to germinate, produce good root systems and then when the spring comes and all chances of frost have passed they are ready to take off.

Sowing seeds is a risky business as there is no guarantee that the seeds will germinate.  In fairness though, if you buy the seed from a reputable company and don’t keep the seed too long then the chances of success are pretty good.  Just follow the guidelines on the packet, keep the soil moist but not wet, keep the temperature within the recommended range and then wait for the seeds to germinate.  It’s an exciting business waiting for the first signs of germination, you are helping to create a new life (albeit a plant).  When the first seeds germinate and you see the first pair of seed leaves you really feel like a proper gardener.

Apart from the sense of achievement of growing your own plants from seeds it also enables you to create a wonderful garden for a fraction of the cost of buying mature plants from a garden centre.  There are numerous health benefits, it is a well documented fact that gardening is good for your health. It’s not rocket science, gardening entails being out in the fresh air working and therefore getting exercise, all good for you.  However, the benefits to mental health are now being recognised worldwide.  Gardening involves buckets of nurturing, gardeners become the foster parents of all their plants, making sure that they are fed, watered and occasionally get a hair cut (otherwise known as dead heading).  Sounds a lot like being a parent to me.  Having someone or something else to care for helps with life balance, promotes self-esteem and counters depression.

So, you’ve bought your packets of seeds, you’ve germinated them, grown them on but what do you do with those 40 Cosmos plants that you have when you really only need 4?  Most gardeners, myself included, always sow too many seeds and end up with more plants than they want.  However, this doesn’t have to be  a problem or a waste, you could sell them(locally or online) and recoup the cost of the seeds and the compost, you could give them to friends or you could do something really exciting like organise a plant swap day.  From my experience gardeners are the most generous, well-balanced and giving people that you can meet.  Maybe it is something to do with being in sync with nature and the seasons, being outdoors with the birds, bees and butterflies – who knows?  Meeting like-minded gardeners gives you access to  a wealth of knowledge and experience, most gardeners will willingly give you advice of what works best and best of all you will make new friends.

Growing plants from seeds is also a very good activity to do with your children, they are learning, they’re not sat in front of the television or a computer game and most importantly it’s quality time shared.  The excitement and wonder on the faces of children when their first seeds germinate or when they pick the first tomato that they have grown is wonderful and teaches children where their food comes from.  Let’s face it the world needs more gardeners, it’s not an occupation that pays well unless you are a garden designer but it does help children to grow up knowing about nature and where food comes from and hopefully create a future generation with a better life balance.

Here at the Moosbach Garden we have Sweet Peas (pictured above), Cosmos Sensation, Delphiniums, Alyssum, Aubretia, Lavender and Salvia seedlings developing.


These are Delphinium seedlings (Darling Sue), you’ll notice that they have their first pair of leaves, these are referred to as seed leaves.  Seed leaves are the first to appear when the seed germinates and these allow the plant to photosynthesise, producing energy for root and plant development.  Shortly after this true leaves will appear that are characteristic of the plant.  I’ve started using these individual soil pods as there is less root disturbance when you pot them on, it’s more expensive than using a bag of compost but it works for me.


These Cosmos Sensation seedlings look a little scrawny but in a few weeks they will be healthy, vigorous plants.  These grow to about 5 feet tall and if planted in a group look absolutely stunning. Just remember to keep deadheading the spent flowers and you’ll have flowers until the first frost.


Above, Cosmos Sensation in the top garden, planted in a group.  The picture at the top of this page shows sweet pea seedlings, you’ll notice that they look quite leggy. Once 2 sets of true leaves have been produced you should nip out the tip of the seedlings and this will encourage the plant to produce more side shoots near the base of the plant.  This results in a bushier looking plant which is more visually pleasing and ultimately will produce more flowers.

You can easily grow stunningly beautiful delphiniums like this in colours and varieties that you won’t generally find at a garden centre and these will reward you year after year with their beautiful flowers.

If you want to buy fantastic Delphinium seeds you can order them here or we will have some plants available to buy at the Moosbach Garden in early summer.

For an excellent selection of flower and vegetable seeds click here.

Don’t forget you can also collect seeds from the plants in your garden, store them over winter and sow them next year.

Happy gardening!

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