This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Floods, Cluj, Seeds and Seed Storage

Cluj Botanical Garden Romania

My wife and I tend to travel quite a lot. Certainly once a year each way from the northern to the southern hemisphere and back, spending a little time each year with children and grandchildren in the UK. The place where you were born and raised, I think most people always call home, even if they no longer live their permanently. We certainly do, and I guess we cling to some parts of life more than others. For us on our travels we always refer to that bastion of British society, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and its international channel BBC World.

This past week we have been saddened to see on the news the terrible floods that have affected Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. I have never been to that part of the world, but in my days as a garden curator we had a very good relationship with the botanical garden in Cluj, Romania click here, and extensively exchanged seeds. Even though the gardens worked under difficult circumstances, they were very generous with their seeds. In the international world of botanical gardens there is great co-operation amongst garden curators and botanical gardens staff, especially through their seed exchange.

During the time of the unfortunate conflict between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas, international horticultural solidarity was shown between a garden in Argentina, one in Ireland and the one for which I was responsible in the UK. I required some seeds for a project in the UK that had been promised by a colleague in Argentina. War broke out and we were precluded from receiving them through a trade or post ban which prevented them being despatched. My colleague in Argentina sent them to a colleague at a garden in the Republic of Ireland. He repackaged them and sent them on to me. I always recall that as a great example of international horticultural common sense and co-operation that over-rides political folly. Having now confessed to what was probably a crime, but committed in the best interests of my students who needed to conduct the project, I may end up in the Tower of London. If there is no blog tomorrow, you will know where I am!

SeedMessenger is our successful seed exchange

For those who are interested in seeds and seed exchange there is a very lively seed exchange group called SeedMessenger click here.It has well over 1000 members, all eager to exchange seeds with one another. I have been amazed at the rich diversity offered and traded. The accompanying SeedMessenger web-site, although in its infancy hosts a range of articles from seed harvesting and cleaning to storing. Visit It also has a small library section.

The greatest concern of those who exchange seeds is their storage, both the manner in which their own inventory is stored, as well as the seeds of the other people with whom exchanges are to be made. Professionally, complex seed banking facilities are necessary when seeds are intended to be stored for future generations. However, in the home garden, where seeds are rarely kept for more than a couple of years, their storage is not a difficult problem. Perfection may not be achieved, but very satisfactory results are possible with the minimum of facilities and expense.

Silica gel is very helpful

The greater part of success with seed storage, is having well-prepared seeds in the first place. If they have been dried and cleaned properly, then storage presents few problems for most popular garden seeds. At the most basic level, cleaned seeds stored in strong paper envelopes and placed in an old shoe box with a small sachet of silica gel crystals is adequate The Royal Horticultural Society recommends that the silica gel should comprise 10% of the volume of container). Keep them in a cool dry place. Never store seeds in warm conditions as most will deteriorate quickly.

Better control can be exercised over their condition, certainly over the long term, if they are maintained at a temperature of 4-5ºC (39-41ºF) in a domestic refrigerator. Some seeds, even of tropical plants, if dried correctly can even be stored in the deep freezer. However, for the home gardener, ensuring the correct moisture content for the species to be stored and subsequently maintaining the optimum temperature, is much too difficult and totally unnecessary. Professionally deep freeze methods are used by many seed banks for very long term storage. When storing seeds in a refrigerator place them in their packets in an air-tight plastic container such as might be used in the kitchen.

Oily seeds do not store well. It is best to plant or exchange them shortly after harvest. In the short term they can be maintained in reasonable condition in damp sand in airtight plastic containers. The problem is ensuring that they are then maintained at a temperature that is sufficiently low to prevent premature germination. For the most part the storage of oily seeds is a short term prospect, as they are rarely viable for more than a few months. It is similar with seeds of many aquatic plants. These only keep well in vials of water or damp sphagnum moss, and must be maintained at a temperature that does not stimulate germination, preferably in a dark place. When in light, the water in which seeds are stored will often turn green and unpleasant.

Happy Gardening



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Cluj Botanical Gardens

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