As Autumn sets in and the trees begin to turn from green to brown and drop their seeds in many different forms, the flower beds are changing too. It might be tempting to clear all the dead clutter and dig over afresh, but STOP. There’s huge value in waiting; and a large part of that value lies in gathering seed for next year.
From acorns to hazelnuts, Calendula to poppy and many in between, the Autumn garden holds a wealth of opportunity for those with a little time and forethought, so arm yourself with several small envelopes, a pen, and a good quality plant guide, and get out into the garden to see what treasures await you.
In my garden this Autumn I am collecting the usual suspects; Aquilegia, Poppy, and Calendula (most of which have already self-seeded in a recent wind) as well as some newbies to my garden – including Nigella, Ammi visgana, Lavatera and Scabiosa. These are all in perfect seed-gathering condition right now; dry and easy to shake out from their heads.
I will label the envelopes and save for planting in the spring; combined with those that have self-seeded, I will be guaranteed a staggered flowering season well into the summer. If any friends or family are also gathering seeds, it can be nice to do seed swaps – community groups often do this too – widening your garden repertoire for free!
If you have the courage (or cheek) to do so, you can also gather seed from public spaces. It is advisable to ask the landowner before doing this; however, there are few people who will notice if a few Honesty seed heads go missing from a public park…or some acorns from a woodland. Just be sure not to overdo it, though, and leave plenty for wildlife as well as other foragers.
The fun is not over once you have gathered your seeds, though – seed heads and stems remaining in the garden still have a purpose. Seeds provide a feast for birds throughout Winter, as well as the stems providing homes for overwintering insects (which in turn will offer more food for birds and hedgehogs). As tempting as it might be to clear your beds, resist – your garden ecosystem will thank you for your efforts. You can pull it all up after Winter, chuck it in the compost, and you will be ready to plant the seed you saved in Autumn.
As well as the environmental benefits, there is of course a financial benefit to saving seed – with flower seeds at around £3 a packet, you will be saving a good amount of money too. There is little more satisfying than growing from seed that you have saved yourself.
I have not yet mentioned vegetable seed but of course that can be saved too; the most successful being beans – runner beans, string beans – if they are not an F1 variety, which are hybrid and will not successfully regrow from seed. You can leave non-hybrids to dry on the stalk before harvesting and saving until spring. Be sure to keep all your seed labelled and dry; a good airtight tin is ideal, placed in a cool dry room.
You can even try your hand at growing trees if you have the space to plant them, or somewhere you have permission to plant them in the wild. The seeds of acorn, hazel, ash, plum, apple, and more can be saved and started off growing into saplings to plant out. This is a lovely activity to try with children, from woodland walks to harvest the seed, to planting it, protecting it and watching it grow. The Woodland Trust has an excellent guide on how to do this.