From the magic beans that grew into the giant beanstalk in the children’s fairytale to planting your first seeds in the garden and watching them grow, the miracle of a seed becoming a plant has an endless fascination.
Children are often encouraged to grow a few seeds of mustard and alfalfa on blotting paper. The speed with which these sprout into life is almost magical. Growing your own plants from seed is a fulfilling and absorbing process, and one that involves relatively little expense. Simply provide your seeds with the right amount of moisture and warmth, and sometimes darkness, and wait. The plant that grows from the seed forms both shoots that push up toward the light and roots that push down into the soil. Once the seed casing that surrounds the powerhouse of the plant falls away, germination is well under way.
However, the length of time that this process takes and the ease with which seeds germinate varies hugely from plant to plant. Some are easier to raise from seed than others, those plants that mature in one season—known as annuals—being the obvious candidates (see pages 270-289). Plants with woody stems, such as shrubs and trees, take much longer and are often best raised from sections of the parent plant—stems, leaves or even roots—which are planted and tended until they, too, turn into miniature clones of the parent. This process involves a variety of techniques that you will need to master.
Seeds require specific conditions of soil, water, and temperature in order to germinate successfully, and you should always check these prior to either sowing or storing. The length of time for which seeds remain viable varies from species to species. Some can only be stored for a year, while others can be left to hibernate for several years until you wish to sow them. If you are buying seeds, always check the sell-by date to ensure that you are not buying old stock that may not germinate well, or at all.