Happy National Seed Swap Day!
Seeds may have been the first commodity ever valued and traded by humans. Although people have been swapping seeds since time began, nowadays people usually buy seeds. As a result, the tradition of seed swapping is disappearing from our culture. To counter this loss, the first official seed swap day was held on 26th January 2006, in Washington D.C., and is now a national ‘day.’ It’s a day where gardeners can come together and swap the seeds from their best plants, which can have many benefits in terms of both garden bounty and biodiversity.
Swapping Seeds in the Name of Restoration
At Brandywine, we are no stranger to swapping seeds. In fact, we love to swap seeds with our conservation partners. Horticulturalists from both the Mt. Cuba Center and Longwood Gardens have collected seed from rare or unusual plants found on Brandywine’s preserves and other protected lands and attempted to propagate from them new plants. This is being done in an effort to help save and expand populations of native plants that, for a number of factors, are disappearing from our local environment. Across the state, our Penguin Court property in Ligonier recently joined the Southern Laurel Highlands Plant and Pest Management Partnership, a cooperative alliance of local conservation groups and public agencies that are focused on combatting non-native, invasive plants and promoting the use of native plants. Our horticultural manager at Penguin Court has already swapped seeds with our partners from Ohiopyle State Park and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Fallingwater and Bear Run Preserve and is growing those seeds in our greenhouse facilities. Once ready, the new plants will be acclimated to outdoor growing conditions and then returned to their place of origin.
And closer to home, here on our Chadds Ford campus, we’ve been collecting seeds for almost fifty years! Our dedicated group of garden volunteers tediously (and one might say obsessively) collect seeds from the wide variety of native plants, shrubs and trees growing throughout our campus and other nearby protected lands. Those seeds are carefully cleaned, stored and either propagated into new material for our gardens or for sale at our annual Wildflower, Seed and Native Plant Sale held Mother’s Day Weekend; sold to home gardeners in the Brandywine River Museum of Art Shop; or sold to local nurseries, growers or contractors who use them in ecological restoration projects.
Why Local is Important
Collecting seeds from the plants that grow here naturally ensures that the local genotype (i.e., the genetic make-up of the plant) is perpetuated. The plants and trees native to our region have adapted, over thousands of years, to our local soil and climatic conditions and to co-exist with both our native pollinators and pests. Thus, plants with a local genotype should be heartier in your garden than plants grown in another part of the country. We are also sure to collect seeds from plants that are “straight species” rather than hybrids. While a hybrid or “cultivar” of a native wildflower may look great in your yard, when conducting ecological restoration projects in natural areas, we avoid hybrids and use straight species that have evolved in similar conditions, thereby increasing their chance of survival in an untended setting.
We encourage you to engage in some seed swapping of your own this weekend. It’s a great way for home gardeners to be introduced to and experiment with new varieties of vegetables or flowers. Happy Seed Swap Day!