Given that many of the seeds were probably not gathered and stored in ideal conditions and given that I am not a very good propagator, a high failure rate is to be expected. I don’t mind it. In fact, I don’t know what I would do with the resulting plants if all the seeds I started did well. Each year I can count on discovering a few plants I would never have known otherwise and that makes it all worthwhile, even taking into account that once in a while I also get acquainted with thugs that have to be “terminated” before they take over the garden.
So, while the gardening season ends with sending off the seed orders, it starts with getting the seeds in the mail. That is an exciting moment because since these are seed exchanges between gardeners, quantities are limited. You never get everything you ordered. I always look forward to seeing what I actually get. By then, a month has elapsed since I sent out my orders, and I have forgotten many of the things I ticked off so there are lots of surprises.
When the seeds arrive is also when the garden work starts because they have to be sorted. I used to sort according to the various germination requirements and would seed some in winter, others in spring and some in summer. Now, unless I am very keen to get a specific plant, in which case I will follow germinating instructions closely, I start them all in spring, putting those that want cool or fluctuating temperatures outside and those that germinate at 20°C inside.
Another winter job is writing out of the labels to go with each seed variety. It is a time consuming affair that is better done in winter rather than postponed till spring, the busiest season of the year.
For me, the great attraction of these seed exchanges is the sharing with other gardeners. By collecting and sending off seeds from your plants and getting other people's seeds, you take part in the long tradition of exchange that has been at the base of gardening since time immemorial. This winter, I was shocked to read in a gardening magazine that they advised readers against accepting plants offered by neighbours or friends as they probably are invasive. I can only suppose that the author of the article sells plants! Anyhow, this advice points to a thwarted view of human relations and of the nature of gardening. Of course the plant might be invasive, it is up to you to do your homework before using the plant in your garden. Besides, in many situations invasive plants are very useful. Most of the plants that are dearest to us are associated with the friends or acquaintances we got the plant from or we connect it with. What an impersonal place a garden with only bought plants would be!