by Bill Cullina, Otto Haas Director, Morris Arboretum

I have been starting seeds since I was five, and I never get tired of it.  Seeds are miraculous, really.  To believe a tiny, inert fleck can grow into a beautiful wildflower or mighty tree is to believe in a botanical alchemy of sorts.  Growing plants from seeds, like brewing beer or knitting sweaters, takes some knowledge and practice, and though it is true that growing your own plants from seed can save you a lot of money, the true reward is the connection you forge with the plants you raise.  Collecting and sowing seeds then raising the young plants to adulthood gives you a far deeper and more nuanced understanding of their wants and needs than you get from simply buying them fully formed from a garden center.  

Whether you collect your own or buy it from local nurseries or mail-order sources, seed is economical and often easy to start.  If you are a novice, I would recommend beginning with annuals, vegetables, or easier perennials such as those in the pea and aster families.  A simple cold frame with a hinged glass or clear plastic top is a great place to start seeds.  Since most perennials germinate better if they are sown in fall, plant them just before the cold weather hits and then cover the clear top with a sheet of rigid foam insulation secured with bricks or rope for the winter.  As temperatures warm in spring, remove the insulation and prop the cover open on sunny days. I keep the insulation handy just in case any late cold snaps are forecast.  Annuals, vegetables, and some perennials can be sown next to the others in the spring.  If a cold frame is not an option, consider an inexpensive grow light.  For less than the cost of a night out, you can purchase a system with which you can raise hundreds and hundreds of plants in your cellar or spare room. 

If you are a plant collector, you know that rare and choice varieties usually come with a hefty price tag.  However, almost anything can be procured by seed if you do some searching and for a fraction of the price of mature plants.  Seed exchanges, Etsy, and eBay are excellent places to track down hard-to-find varieties.  The best part is, when you grow plants from seed, you will have plenty of extras to share with friends!

If you are interested in learning more about growing a variety of hardy plants from seed, please join me for my class.

Raising your own plants from seed is like deciding to brew your own beer or knit your own sweaters – it is a commitment to immerse yourself completely in something you feel passionately about. When I collect and clean seeds, sow them and nurture the young plants to adulthood, they are old friends by the time they find a place in my garden. It is one of the most profoundly satisfying things I can think of to spend my time doing and not complicated if you know a few simple techniques. Starting from seed also gives you access to an incredible diversity of species available from specialty nurseries, collecting forays, and plant society seed exchanges, and your own back yard. In this workshop, I will first cover the basics of seed collection and cleaning followed by seed sowing and overcoming dormancy. Then I will put these practices to work with a livestreamed demonstration using a dozen or so representative trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Wednesday, October 14 | 10:00 am - 11:30 am

Members: $10 | Non-Members $15

Register here.