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Gardening: seedy goings on

Discover the economical way to save up species that will give you an abundance of fruit and flowers next year.

By Hannah Stephenson

Before you ditch those tired summer container plants, cut down your perennials or dig up the bolted veg from your allotment, spend a little time gathering seeds to give you an abundance of flowers and fruits next year.

Self-seeders include annual poppies, foxgloves, lady’s mantle, aquilega and love-in-a-mist, which will pop up all over the place in future years. If you want a more organised display, collect the seeds before they self-sow, so you can control where they appear in the garden.

Saving seed is an economical way to build up numbers of species to create drifts, but remember that seed from highly bred plants won’t come true and should be viewed as experimental only.

Seeds from many plants, including nasturtium and nigella, should be stored in paper envelopes in a cool, dry place until you are ready to sow them under cover in early spring.

Choose a still, sunny day to gather seeds, looking for seed-heads that have turned brown and seem on the verge of splitting.

Collect semi-ripe seedheads of rock plants and perennials in paper bags, hanging them in a dark, well-ventilated place. Seedheads from some species will open, releasing the seed into the bottom of the bag, making it easy to collect. Others need to be prised open to extract the seed.

If you have a lot of early-flowering plants in your garden, they may have already self-seeded. Look around and you may be able to save some, increasing your stock without having to sow seed. You can dig up the seedlings, pot them up and label the pots. They should be treated gently, like unrooted cuttings, until they become more established. Place the pots in a cold frame or in a shady part of the greenhouse. Alternatively, let them grow on a shady window sill indoors.

Newcomers to saving seeds may be worried about how to handle them. Some gardeners have a variety of sieves with different sized holes to filter the dust and other debris from the seeds.

The most important thing about saving seeds is to keep them dry. Ideally, store them in small paper envelopes in airtight jars in a dark, cool room. To keep moisture at bay, pop a sachet of silica gel crystals into the jar.

Gardeners who have an abundance of particular types of seeds may find a number of seed-swap forums and websites such as Seedy People ( and Over The Garden Gate ( useful to put them in touch with other seed-swappers.

The Tree Council is also encouraging gardeners to gather up tree seeds with the launch of its Seed Gathering Season, which runs from September 23 to October 23.

This is the best time in the year to gather seeds from many of our more common trees. Conkers, acorns, birch cones, beechnuts, ash helicopters, rowan berries and apples are just some of the fruits and nuts ripe for gathering in the autumn and nurturing to grow into trees.

The Tree Council is encouraging the public to organise anything from guided walks to workshops and other activities to gather seeds, nuts and fruits to grow a whole range of trees.

When collecting your seeds, think carefully about where you will plant your young trees and consider their size when fully grown. In smaller gardens, go for smaller trees like rowan, hazel, birch and cherry, or shrubs like dogwood and the native viburnums (guelder rose and wayfaring tree).

For details of events during Seed Gathering Season go to the


Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’

This beautiful deciduous shrub comes into its own in autumn, with a fantastic display of vivid orange and red leaves, coinciding with large clusters of small, violet bed-like berries, just at a time when you need a bit of oomph in the garden. It produces delicate pink flowers in summer but it is in autumn, when the colourful leaves fall, that the bare branches of purple berries look amazing, lasting until Christmas and brightening up flower arrangements. These shrubs will grow in well-drained soil and will tolerate a little lime, but conditions which are too alkaline will cause leaf yellowing. They prefer sun or light shade, growing to around 3m (9ft).


Pruning cane fruits

Although you may still be picking blackberries well into this month, loganberries and tayberries will be ready for pruning now. You can do the same with blackberries once you’ve picked the crop. They all work on a two-year cycle. Canes which grow this year will fruit next year and are then cut down.

When you are pruning, cut out dry, dead stems at the base and leave all visible new shoots as they will produce the following summer’s fruit.

If you are just starting, train the canes out vertically along a fence or row of posts and wires, to one side of the plant. Those canes will carry next year’s fruit. Canes which grow next year won’t fruit until the following year, so they should be trained out in the opposite direction so that you don’t become confused when pruning.

Keeping the two years’ canes separated in this way makes pruning relatively simple. Once you’ve harvested all the fruit from this year, cut off all the fruited canes to around 15cm (6in) from the ground.

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