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Growing a Community: Seed Sharing

March 5, 2021

By Erin Aults, Library and Archives Specialist, Royal Botanical Gardens.

If you are like me, you are eagerly awaiting the new, seemingly delicate green that early spring brings. I’ve been spending evenings and lunch hours planning and plotting in what T.C. Robinson, a 19th century Owen Sound seedsman, delightfully called “a sowing of brains in winter”. A large portion of that planning and, to be honest, escapism from this COVID-19 winter, includes flipping through seed catalogues and picturing myself in a healthy, vibrant and diverse garden I grew.

Seeds have long been a material object of hope and community making. When Settlers were creating their homes and gardens in Upper Canada, seeds were often presented as gifts during visits. They might be seeds from a prized squash plant or seeds from an herbal plant like thyme. Either way, these seeds were meant as a gift to help build community.

Bruce 1890 seed catalogue cover

During World War I and World War II, Victory Gardens were often grown in common plots that many people worked and had access to. In Hamilton today, there are over ninety community gardens where households garden cheek to jowl with other passionate gardeners. The COVID-19 crisis has made gardening even more important for community resilience and community building.

RBG sees our own place in this growing community. We are dedicated to connecting people to plants. Our Seed Library is one way we nurture that connection and help build that community. We provide you with seeds to borrow, grow, and then return.

Everybody can borrow seeds and that’s one of the most important aspects to the Seed Library. There are no membership fees and no cost for the seeds. We encourage you to borrow, sow, grow, learn and return. This helps promote equity in gardening as well as supporting diversity in plants.

Seed borrowers and plant growers play an important part in our gardening ecosystem. By growing these seeds, you are helping to preserve plants that are built to grow and thrive in this area. The seeds offered are sometimes rare or heirloom varieties and we hope to promote their sustainability by offering them here.

Many seed libraries, like ones offered by Green Venture and Burlington (Burlington Seed Library is closed for 2021) and Hamilton Public Libraries focus on food plants. RBG’s Seed Library focuses on native plants, herbaceous perennials, woody plants as well as offering food plants and annuals. Because people aren’t the only community we are dedicated to fostering, we encourage growing native plants to foster the local plant communities.

RBG seed library drawer filled with envelopes

Seeds from our library were collected or donated in 2019 and 2020 and were harvested from plants grown in the Hamilton region. This means they are ideal for the climate and conditions of the area. They are built to grow and thrive right here. We have over 330 different varieties of plants with 170 perennials listed.

So if you are new to gardening, interested in growing a greater diversity of plants, want to eat greens without spending a toonie, or invested in supporting a community of growers, our seed library will help you meet those goals.

Learn more about the Seed Library, see our seeds on offer, and learn how to request, borrow, grow, and return seeds on RBG’s Seed Library page.

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