Are You a Hardy Planter?

Pardancanda from a past HPS/MAG Seed Exchange July 05

Back in the old days—before Blotanical, before the first garden blogs, even before the first on-line gardening forums—getting involved in local garden clubs and national gardening organizations was one of the best ways to connect with other obsessed gardeners. Blogging now gives us practically instant access to each other and lets us “visit” other gardeners around the globe. But you know, there’s still a lot to be said for those long-established organizations. One that’s always been special to me is The Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group (HPS/MAG).

HPS/MAG Seed Exchange Catalog 2007-2008It was nearly 20 years ago when I attended my first HPS/MAG plant exchange, bearing a flat of tiny perennial seedlings that I’d grown on my apartment balcony. I realize now that my offerings were pretty pathetic compared to the generously sized divisions and stocky seedlings the other participants brought, but the other members made me feel so welcome that I was encouraged to keep attending meetings and lectures, and the sale became the highlight of my year. The group still has a spring sale of member-donated plants, along with a fall “vendor” sale (a variety of nurseries bring their wares to one central location), and there are still a variety of lectures, trips, and other activities to choose from. But one of my favorite things about the group—and one that might be of interest to the rest of you, no matter where you live—is the HPS/MAG Seed Exchange.

Now finishing its 14th season, the Seed Exchange is organized by an amazing group of volunteers. This past year, they handled approximately 900 seed donations from 67 gardeners and organizations. The catalog they produce each year is invaluable in itself, packed with detailed descriptions and germination information provided by the donors. (I’ll also mention that it looks much nicer than my scan of the cover indicates.) For just $15, members get to order 25 packets; if you donate seed too, you get 35 picks. Just on a per-packet price, you can’t beat it.

HPS/MAG Seed Packets

Bargain shopping isn’t what this list is all about, though. You might guess from the group name that you’d find mostly hardy perennials, and there are lots of those, but there are also all kinds of annuals, tender perennials, bulbs, aquatics, shrubs, trees, and vines, many of which you can’t easily get elsewhere. Some are old favorites; others aren’t even in the trade yet. Among the donors are institutions and nurseries such as Chanticleer in PA, Greenwood Gardens in NJ, Point Phillip Perennials in PA, Sugarbush Nursery in PA, Plant Delights Nursery in NC, Scott Arboretum in PA, Odyssey Bulbs in MA, Stonecrop Gardens in NY, Temple University in PA, and Wave Hill in NY. HPS/MAG members tend to be inveterate plant collectors, so many of the seeds contributed by individual gardeners are equally choice.

In a way, I guess it’s cruel of me to tell you about all this, because the exchange is about finished sending out seeds for the 2007-2008 season. Just like a garden, though, the seed exchange never really ends: As soon as the last packet goes out, the committee starts planning for the next season, and members start collecting as soon as the first early-bloomers ripen their seeds. So, if you’re already a seed fanatic, you could join now, collect seeds from your garden through this upcoming season, and become an integral part of the exchange next winter. Not sure you’re ready to contribute? Consider joining anyway (at www.hardyplant.org), so you’ll receive the catalog next December. Chances are, once you’ve participated once, you’ll be hooked!

About Nancy J. Ondra

Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.

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5 Responses to Are You a Hardy Planter?

  1. wiseacre February 5, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    What a nice surprise to see one of my all time favorites!

    Candy Lily (Pardancanda norissi )

    Too bad they are not quite hardy enough for my location. I have to grow perennials that survive winters colder than my wife’s feet.

    Hello there, WiseAcre; glad you joined us! Isn’t that candy lily a beauty? I must have potted up several seedlings together, because there are actually three different flower colors in that one clump. To separate them, I’d have to divide them in bloom to know which is which. They’re all beauties, though, so I just leave them as they are. (P.S. Love your site!)
    -Nan

  2. jodi February 5, 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    Because I haven’t had the time or space for doing a lot of home-sowing of seeds indoors, I’ve not gotten involved with too much in the way of seed exchanges, etc. That WILL change, but spring is the busiest time for me to be away giving talks, doing research, etc, and while LongSuffering Spouse is very good about housework, laundry (and even cleaning the barn), he’s not so good at watering. But there are just SO many interesting plants I won’t find otherwise that creating a proper, cat-free spot for doing some seeding IS on my list of things to do around here…really it is…

    I hear you, Jodi. But there are many great perennials that you could sow in pots now and put in a cold frame (or directly outside) to germinate on their own schedule (in spring, or whenever they choose to). I’ve resorted to also doing that with annuals that self-sow around here. They get a somewhat later start, but they don’t need careful watering, they don’t take up valuable space indoors, and they don’t need hardening-off, either.
    -Nan

  3. jodi February 6, 2008 at 12:08 am #

    You’re right, of course, Nan. And I oughta do just that; there’ve been so many inspiring posts about it lately. I don’t have a cold frame as such; I do have an unheated greenhouse, but that gets quite warm during the days, and the catchildren also go in there and play. I’ll cajole Longsuffering spouse into making me a ‘hay frame’ for the time being. Now I’m excited!

    Just a word of caution about the “hay frame,” Jodi: I’ve tried it before, and it made a perfect winter mouse house, which was disastrous for my seeds. Perhaps your catchildren would prevent that from happening for you. But I just thought I’d mention it!
    -Nan

  4. Lisa at Greenbow February 6, 2008 at 9:40 pm #

    A mouse house. Ha I hadn’t thought of that before.

    I am not much on seed starting either. My bit of sunshine is filled with house plants this time of year. I am intriuged by the winter sowing that several are talking about. I might try that some time.

    Yeah, it worked out well for the mice but not so well for that year’s crop of hellebore seeds. Sigh.

    I do get that seed-starting isn’t for everyone – especially those who have gardens that are mostly already established. But it’s invaluable when you have a lot of space to fill and not much of a budget.
    -Nan

  5. Ken from Sweden February 8, 2008 at 7:25 am #

    Here in Sweden the gardenbloging is rader new.
    I´m born whith intrests for gardening my mum was a amateur garderner, and so am I.
    We have a large organisation here in Sweden whos calling STA.(translate to, Swedich garden amateur)
    And when we was member there in year 2000
    it beacome a big change.
    They have two big gardenmarkets on the year,
    where you can bye plants that not is on the Swedish market and for a lower price.
    And they have trips bouth in Sweden but in outher countries to, we have travel in Germany for exampel.
    They have also gardenvisits in outher amateurgardens in our area.
    They are many visiteurs on them, I can promice you.
    I a´m self now for thise year member in one of the districts border, and that shall be fun.
    Now whith the internet it is a new world who is comes around and thats realy fun to see outher gardens around the wold, but we shall never forget our lokal organisations.
    Regards Ken

    Hello Ken! Thanks ever so much for telling us about the STA, and about your local group. I imagine that wherever there are gardeners, they will find a way to connect, and to acquire new plants!
    -Nan