Everyday gardener // Little free seed bank

A few readers have emailed lately asking if I think it’s OK to just take a few seeds from plants in people’s gardens, or if I think they should ask first. 

It’s a good question, and one every gardener grapples with, I imagine. I know I have. In just a minute, I’m going to talk about this whole seed thing, as well as my hope that some of us can come up with a way to share our seeds. But first I need to apologize for an error I made in my last column about Scotts, the company that makes Miracle-Gro and many other products.

I wrote that Scotts falsified EPA documents regarding the company’s sale of toxic bird seed. I got that wrong. The company’s falsification of government documents was actually part of a separate legal issue going on at the same time involving Scotts’ illegal sale of pesticides that were not registered with the EPA. I confused the two issues when researching my column and thought the fabricated paperwork had to do with the bird seed. I am sorry about that error. I know it’s important to get your facts straight. 

If you want to know more about the pesticide violations, including which products were involved and what was investigated, go to the EPA’s website (http://tinyurl.com/9w6mg3y) where you’ll find a lot of information, including a September 7 press release announcing that Scotts has been sentenced to pay $12.5 million in connection with both issues.

OK, back to talking about seeds. I admit that I have gathered a few seeds here and there from other people’s gardens. I didn’t go up into their yards or anything. But if a plant I liked was in a boulevard garden, or poking out of a fence or over a wall, I’d take a few seeds if it seemed like there were a lot to go around. I didn’t think much about this, probably because I wouldn’t mind if people took seeds from my gardens that are accessible from the sidewalk, either. 

But then the issue came up on our Master Gardener listserv and I got those emails I mentioned from readers, and I realized that a lot of people consider taking seeds from other people’s plants a horrible thing to do. “It’s stealing,” one gardener wrote on our listserve. And many others agreed. Of course I see their point. And even though we stealers only take a few seeds, what if everyone who came along did that? What if the plant was special, maybe an heirloom grown by the gardener’s grandma and each year’s seeds were a precious treasure to be shared with family members?

I’ve thought about all of these things and decided that I won’t ever take seeds without asking again. But this doesn’t change the fact that I would be happy to share seeds from my gardens, and I’m fine with people taking them without asking as long as you don’t venture into the yard and frighten our scared-of-everything dog, Lily. So I’ve been thinking about ways to share. I could put up a sign on the boulevard: “Please feel free to take seeds from the boulevard gardens!” We live on a corner lot, so there are a lot of plants to choose from out there that are going to seed right now.

But how do I let people know they can have seeds from our front and backyard gardens too? If you’re reading this, all I really need is an email letting me know you’d like to come over and I can put Lily in the house before your visit. For those who happen to pass by, though, and don’t read this column, do I need another sign? Do we all need signs that offer seeds to other gardeners? Or is there some other, more efficient way we can share with each other? Better still, is there some way we can share seeds and build a little seed bank community around the whole seed sharing thing? 

I love this idea, but I’m not sure how to pull it off. So I’m throwing it out there to you so we can maybe figure it out together. You’ve probably seen those birdhouse-like Little Free Libraries around the city. Might we be able to come up with something like that, some type of simple box with a lid that we could mount on a fence or post in our yards and fill with seeds in little marked bags to share in the spring and summer? Any sort of box we could make ourselves would do. I could have a list of Little Free Seed Bank sites on my blog (although we probably can’t call it that because of trademark issues). Are you interested? If so, email me at my blog: meleah@everydaygardener.com, and start cooking up a plan for next spring. 

Meleah Maynard is a writer and Master Gardener. For more gardening tips and articles, subscribe to her blog at everydaygardener.com.