Noah's Ark for Plants

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We’ve been talking about Plan B lately, my friend Peter and I. A new nursery called Evolution Plants has specimens for sale which may be facing extinction in their natural habitat. The proprietor Tom Mitchell feels that these plants may be safer in his nursery near Bath than, say, in a swamp in the American South. By being offered for sale, they will spread around and increase their chances of ultimate survival. “Good luck to him,” says Peter. I sense that he is not completely on board with this.

Achoca or 'Bolivian cucumber' from the Heritage Seed Library

We talk about the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. The ‘largest ex-situ plant collection in the world’, it is a bombproof collection being put together by Kew. See it as a time capsule, an insurance against the Dodo effect, or a great get-out for plant life after global disaster. “It’s a very noble thing to do,” says Peter, again, rather airily.

Heritage tomatoes including 'Green Zebra' and 'Black Cherry'

Peter is a Seed Custodian with Garden Organic and it is his responsibility to sow, grow and share. He also teaches gardening at the local primary school and he takes the children on field trips to the allotment nearby, in Northamptonshire. He doesn't only grow heritage varieties: his double plot is home to the depth and breadth of any allotmenteer’s requirements in the way of fruit and veg.

Radishes being sorted and trimmed

Teaching and sharing is where it’s at. Peter’s allotment does not have an entrance fee of £17 (unlike Kew Gardens) and any visitor is more than likely to come away with seeds to plant and food to eat. As a Seed Custodian, Peter is not making plans for global disaster. “This is about old cultivars, not wild flowers,” he explains. As with rare breed animals, the plants are still relevant and should be treated as such. “It’s not a dead archive,” continues Peter. “People are going out and GROWING the plants, instead of putting seeds in Kilner jars and burying them in a mountain.”

Spring onion 'Deep Purple'

“It’s great that they’re preparing for the Second Coming,” says Peter. “I hope that someone will be able to find the keys and the location. And that they’ll want to go out and plant the blooming things.”

Beans 'Cherokee Trail of Tears'

We move on to a discussion of real-life seed-collecting: getting the bugs out and drying everything completely instead of allowing it to go 'fousty'. These are real concerns that all gardeners face from the end of summer.

Would I like some wet walnuts, would I like some squash and some garlic to plant? And dried beans, there are loads of those. I can soak them for cooking or put them away until next spring.

It might be in a Kilner jar but they’ll be somewhere near the back door, not in a secret location. I answer: “I'll take the lot.”

Thanks for reading,


Discover the entire Sarah Raven seed collection online.