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by Nancy Schramm

The Promise of New Beginnings

Seeds have always fascinated me. If you think about it, seeds are practically miraculous. Inside what is often a little, hard dry package, is everything needed to start a new life. With thoughts of the New Year in mind, let's look at the promise of new beginnings: the seed.

Without getting too technical, almost all higher plants in the world produce seeds. Seeds can range in size from what looks like dust (some Eucalyptus, for example) to the Coco de Mer, a species of coconut that can weigh over 40 lbs. Seeds come in many colors, with some being multi-colored and patterned. Some beans look like they've been created by an abstract artist. And the shapes of seeds seem infinite in variety. It's as if an artist painted the colors and patterns, then a five-star marketing team designed the packaging with dispersal in mind.

The maple (Acer) seed is the original helicopter. The seeds, fused in pairs, each have "wings" that cause them to spin as they drop from the tree. There's an annoying weed seed that is covered with little hooks-said to be the inspiration for the "hook" part of Velcro. Those hooks grab on to an unsuspecting passerby and the seeds hitch a free ride to a new neighborhood.

Wisteria seeds grow in a long pod that looks like a giant string bean. When the pod dries to a certain point, the seeds are mature and the pod bursts open, flinging seeds in all directions. The dandelion has a seed that is a delight to children everywhere (and a challenge to all gardeners). The tiny seed is surrounded by hairy rays that catch the slightest breeze in order to travel to new territories. But the packaging best loved by most of us is the edible kind.
Consider the apricot, the tomato, the berry, and the apple. Perfect packaging for widespread dispersal, if you ask me!

Once all these seeds eventually end up on the ground, they face their next challenge. Germination is what all seeds hope and wait for, and some end up waiting a long, long time. There are a number of conditions that must be met in order for a seed to germinate. One of these conditions is adequate, usually consistent moisture. In most cases, once you start the germination process, if the seeds dry out, they will die. (On the other hand, if your goal is to store seeds for a while before starting them, a cool dry situation is generally best).

Some seeds require a cool period, and then will germinate as temperatures rise. If you do a little research, the plants that produce this type of seed usually grow where the seed matures in the fall, and a cool/cold wet winter is followed by warmer spring temperatures.

Over the years, mankind has come up with methods to mimic what nature does to promote germination. Stratification is a cold moist treatment for seeds. Scarification is when you nick a seed with a knife, or rub it on sandpaper, or even give it an acid bath to help soften or break open the hard seed coat. There are some seeds that require boiling water to be poured over them before sowing. Some seeds will germinate better after a fire has been burned over them. And some take at least two years (or more!) of seasonal weather changes to sprout.

At this point I hear you asking me "Why bother starting your own seeds?" Well, lots of reasons. You can save money by starting seeds and you can grow a much wider variety of plants from seed than are available at even the biggest nursery. Some plants grow better when grown directly from seed then when they are transplanted. These include many vegetables, such as carrots, beans, and corn. Germinating a seed can be a challenge, and a reward. When I see seeds starting to push up through the soil, I feel like I'm watching a miracle.

My friend Tony recently shared a seedling website with me: is a fascinating place to look through. My favorite is the seedpod section, where you can see a seed, the pod it came out of, and seedlings with their first true leaves, along with information about how the website creator germinated the seeds. I'd also like to share two fabulous local seed sources: J.L. Hudson, Seedsman ( and Ginny Hunt ( ) both offer an amazing variety of excellent quality seeds. Another great source of seeds is open to you by joining the North American Rock Garden Society. ( This society has 4,500 members worldwide, many of whom are enthusiastic seed collectors who contribute to the annual seed exchange.

And finally, my favorite catalog for vegetable seeds is Johnny's Selected Seeds ( because of all the germinating, growing, and harvesting information included.

Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003. She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.

Contact Nancy at

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136