Unsolicited seed deliveries bring endless surprises

Erin Schanen

    There are few pastimes in which enthusiasm and generosity are more interwoven than gardening. When a gardener finds an outstanding plant, the first thing they do is spread the word to gardening friends. When that plant offers seed, well, that’s where the generosity comes in.
    Seeds are a delightful bit of inexpensive magic and are often in good supply, so sharing a few is a natural instinct for gardeners.
    I’ve been the recipient of hundreds, maybe thousands, of seeds, some offered out of kindness, others out of enthusiasm for a plant a fellow gardener is eager to share.
    Several of these seed gifts arrive with a letter that includes information on how to grow my new treasures or why the sender chose this particular variety to share. One recent arrival — a collection of Primula from a local fancier of the genus — came with expert-level growing information that had me sowing them in a tray within minutes of opening the mail.
    Another letter that accompanied a hand-packed offering of devil’s trumpet (Datura) told of the sender’s trips to gardens around the world and the plants in her garden that came out of those trips.
    On occasion, I’m sent seeds of new or noteworthy varieties to trial so that I’m better able to sing their praises (or point out their shortcomings) as the plants reach a broader market. Most years, a fat envelope of seeds for plants chosen as All-America Selections shows up in March. The contents of this package are always a surprise and includes a wide and varied collection that’s been trialed across North America and found to be superior to other plants in its category.
    This year’s AAS seeds included Celosia Flamma Orange, a bright orange-flowering variety with good branching that looks just like the flame it is named for. Judges lauded it for superior garden performance in humidity and rain and noted that it blooms earlier than other Celosias.
    There was also a white eggplant called Icicle, which produces long, thin glossy white eggplants with fewer seeds. It’s a big plant — 48 inches tall — but I’ll find a place to grow this beauty. The same goes for Purple Zebra tomato, a hybrid striped tomato with excellent disease resistance and prolific fruiting, producing up to 150 3-ounce tomatoes.
    Quickfire pepper, another AAS winner, won’t need space in the garden since it is perfectly suited to container growing and produces hot Thai peppers in just 65 days from seeding, which is almost unheard of for hot peppers.
    There is one other kind of seed mail that occasionally shows up, and that’s a few seeds in an envelope with nothing more than the name of the seed enclosed. This year one such envelope showed up labeled “Blue butterfly pea,” a plant I know mostly from a favorite gin that is colored with its flowers. I’ve only gotten one to germinate so far, but I look forward to adding a few brilliant blue flowers to a favorite concoction this summer and toasting the generous gardener who made it possible.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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