David Howells is one of hundreds of people across the UK taking part in a large-scale conservation effort.
In the face of rapid climate change, emerging diseases, and the growth of industrial monocrops these volunteer ‘Seed Guardians’ have been tasked with growing heritage seed varieties by Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library.
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The Library, based at the charity’s headquarters at Ryton Gardens, holds the National Collection of Heritage Vegetables – more than 800 varieties of seeds – including rare landrace varieties adapted to specific growing conditions, heirloom varieties saved over generations and varieties no longer available to buy.
Seventy-one-year-old David has been a keen gardener since he was 10, after helping in his parent’s garden when he was young.
He said: “I’ve had a fascination since I was a child about growing a plant from a seed. I sometimes stare in awe at a mature tomato or bean plant – loaded with ripe fruits – and reflect on how it grew from such a tiny seed with a bit of nurturing from me.
“It gives me a great sense of pride to grow from seed, but that pride is built on the fact that there are sometimes failures – and that makes success all the sweeter. Determining what might have gone wrong is just as important in seed saving.
“Every time I grow a great-tasting vegetable from seed, it’s so rewarding. It’s great to play a part in helping to preserve plant varieties that might otherwise disappear from circulation and cultivation.”
With the diversity of plants diminishing since the early 20th century, many of the plants which were once grown in the UK are in danger of being lost.
The Heritage Seed Library’s Seed Guardians grow out the plants in their gardens and allotments, collecting, cleaning and drying the seed and sending it back to the Library to be conserved. They also give feedback on important factors such as performance, pest and disease resistance and taste.
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Varieties have included amaranth ‘Mrs McGhie’, ‘White Belgium’ carrot, ‘Table Talk’ pea, ‘Bob and Mary’s’ climbing French bean and ‘Mescher’ lettuce.
Catrina Fenton, Head of the Seed Library, said: “Up and down the country Seed Guardians are carefully carrying out conservation work with us, and we simply couldn’t do the work we do without their help.
“David’s enthusiasm and dedication are exactly why the Heritage Seed Library has been around for almost 50 years. This work is more important than ever to ensure diversity in our food systems is available for future generations and to develop better adapted plants in a changing climate.”