January, notably cold and dreary, is the time to curl up somewhere warm with a pile of notes, drawings, and seed catalogues, dreaming of gardens to come. It can feel a little lonesome for a gardener when you are waiting for spring thaw – until you hear about an upcoming seed exchange.

By Horticulturist Chantal Ludder

If you are any sort of gardener, the phrase ‘upcoming seed exchange’ immediately makes you sit up in excitement. Perhaps your eye drifts towards your calendar, already looking over the landscape of your commitments and free hours. If you are not a gardener, I shall explain it to you.

Seeds are magic. A single seed can create fifty ripe, red tomatoes next August.  A pinch of them is a promise of a big, blousy wildflower garden in June, dotted with honeybees. Heirloom seeds allow us to hold a piece of history in our hands, without wearing white gloves. So of course, gardeners will put in the time and effort to collect them.

Seeds are ripe when they’re ripe, so it’s not unusual to find a gardener wandering about with an envelope of what looks like dryer lint, or stuffing a handful of detritus into a free pocket. Eventually, we’ll separate seed from chaff, package, label, and store the clean seed away for next year. Keeping seed year-to-year is cheaper than buying new every spring, and seeds from plants growing in your garden will in turn produce plants better adapted to your microclimate. And of course, seeds are for sharing.

You might have noticed, if you garden or have spent any amount of time around a gardener, that we impulsively share plants. There is some ill-defined, knee-jerk reaction gardeners get when chatting with other plant people. I like this. You like this too? Take some home!

It is a joy and a gift to watch a roomful of gardeners come together for a seed exchange. Even the most shy and retiring people seem to light up at the prospect of sharing what they have, and seeing what everyone else is growing. Beyond this, seed exchanges are a vehicle for the exchange of knowledge. I would dearly love to know everything you learned this past year from growing black sesame seeds. What happened with the weather? The woodchucks? I am here to hear about the heirloom hollyhocks your wife’s cousin Anne grew, as well as all of Anne’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings on the matter. And I in turn have a dozen packets of Thai butterfly pea seeds to share, along with stories of starting them in the greenhouse, the bees that loved them, and brewing blue tea from the flowers.

Gardeners seem to inherently understand that if seeds are magic, it’s a magic made for sharing. Glossy seed catalogues are all very well and good, but nothing compares to a neighbor handing you a little packet of seeds and cheerfully telling you their story. So here’s your neighbor telling you: there’s going to be another seed exchange this January 25th at Blandy Arboretum, and I hope to see you there.