Almost all botanical gardens have a program to collect and catalogue their seeds, to maintain stocks and trade with other gardens, but few have an organized plan for the public distribution of these seeds. One example of what can be done may be found at a garden in the southwest corner of British Columbia, Canada - VanDusen Botanical Garden.
The Volunteer Seed Collectors at VanDusen Botanical Garden have been collecting and cleaning seed since 1982. The program was initiated by the Garden's original Curator, Roy Forster (Order of Canada) and organized over the years by Aimee Murrell. The plan was, and still is, to collect only the very best seeds and to clean, prepare, and store them in such a way as to ensure the highest viability possible. These seeds are available for purchase at the VanDusen Botanical Garden gift shop and through this webstore year-round.
The following article is by the former Chair of the VanDusen Seed Collectors, Mary Palmore-Kleinhout:
Sunday and Tuesday mornings, weather permitting, several teams fan out through the VanDusen garden's fifty-five acres to observe, attach 'Save for Seed' tags and, eventually, harvest seeds from more than six-hundred and fifty plant species. Preferring to stay in the classroom, some members of our group try to keep up with seed cleaning. They use various sieves, magnifiers, tweezers, fingers and years of experience. Everyone pitches in to separate the chaff or pulp from seeds on rainy days. Even so, carefully labelled brown bags and drying trays vie for space toward the end of our harvesting time.
From a handful of enthusiasts in the spring of 1983, Seed Collector volunteers have flourished under the masterful guidance of our Chair emeritus, Aimee Murrell. We sell seeds at most of VanDusen's special events, by mail order and, with the help of the VanDusen Guides, on the garden deck. Our treasurer purchases all our equipment, our supplies and pays expenses with these monies. Plus, funds for special projects like the deck extension are annually given to the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association. Our organization has departments for membership, treasury, systems and seed list, mail order, quality control, library, seed file, seed index, shop sales, photography and orientation manual. Aimee has led and encouraged all this development while being an expert seed collector, prolific seed cleaner and good friend to all of us.
The solution we have come up with for training new members without halting our seed gathering and processing chores through the seasons, is an outline of common sense rules and relevant information called the Orientation Manual. However, a maximum seed with minimum debris ideal must be shown in the field. Liatris blooms from the top down. We therefore cut whole stalks near ground level and keep only the tips where better more developed seeds are located. For many other species, Gunnera manicata is an example; we cut low on the stalk and discard the whole top half.
Educational garden walks by different team leaders and information visits from garden staff help new members find their footing. Demonstrations of seed cleaning methods are as diverse as the seed types. A file of actual seed samples is maintained and constantly updated by our members.
Because our time in the field is relatively limited, each team is given a printout drawn from data in our collection book and our database. Not merely do we have a plant's name, date of harvest, location, colour, height and type, but also any special comments in regard to optimal collection and storage techniques. At a glance the collectors can decide the amount to be taken by checking yearly totals of packages sold.
December is a month-long holiday for us to spend more time with our families. Right after the New Year dawns; we are back, refreshed and ready to take on our busiest season. All our stock of cleaned stored seeds must be carefully measured or counted and placed in packages with the picture inserts. A botanical garden in Australia may be waiting for their second bulk order of Meconopsis betonicifolia or the lady in Wales may need more seed for the "garden-gate-nursery" she began after her gift packets of our seeds had such a high germination rate. Repeat customers know to order early because some hard-to-find seeds will always be in short supply.
The last Saturday in February marks not just the debut of our new seeds but also a celebration of heritage, native and organically produced seeds. VanDusen's first Seedy Saturday; in 1989, has been the prototype for dozens of Canada-wide festivals hoping to pique the home grower's interest in preserving the genetic diversity in our cultivated and native plants.
West Coast Seed Company's Mary Ballon, Salt Spring Seeds Dan Jason, Circling Dawn's Mojave Kaplan and dozens of other displayers make this an exciting experience for gardening connoisseurs. If it can be said Seedy Saturday has a heart, it is the swap table where anyone can trade their saved seeds for someone else's treasured heirloom variety. As well, VanDusen Garden's Youth Education Coordinator has "Seeds of Curiosity" displays and activities to make this a family fun day. Seed Collectors have organized this event since 1991. With the VBGA staff's practical support, these Seedy Saturdays are truly growing bigger and better each year."
Mary Palmore-Kleinhout, Seed Collector and Guide since 1984
If you wish to contact the Seed Collectors via Snail Mail, their address is;
Volunteer Seed Collectors
VanDusen Botanical Garden
5251 Oak Street