Skip to content
Effective November 15: Visitors required to show proof of vaccination. Learn more about visiting safely during COVID-19.

Seed Library

Borrow, Grow, and Return!

All life needs plants. RBG is dedicated to connecting people to plants. Our seed library is one way we nurture that connection. We provide seeds that you borrow, grow, and then return. If you are new to gardening, interested in growing a greater diversity of plants, or invested in supporting a community of growers, our seed library will help you meet those goals.

Our seed library focuses on herbaceous perennials, grasses, annuals, and trees and shrubs although some food plants are also available. Please look through the following Frequently Asked Questions for more information and then fill out a request form.

Seeds are generally available only in the spring and our selection will dwindle as the seeds are lent out. So get your requests in and start growing. Ready, set, grow!

Please note: Thank you all for your interest. RBG’s Seed Library had an incredibly successful year. We are no longer taking requests for seeds but will be back in early 2022 with new lists and more seeds. We will be happy to accept “returns” from this year’s borrowed seeds starting this fall. Check back here for more information.

  • Rows of envelopes containing seeds with labels
  • Sorted envelopes of seeds in a bin
  • Volunteers sorting and labelling seeds into envelopes
  • seeds ready to be packed
  • RBG seed library drawer filled with envelopes

Seed Library FAQs

Why is it called a seed library?

Just like a public library, a seed library works on the basis of borrowing a seed for free, growing those seeds to maturity, and then harvesting and returning seeds from that plant for the next borrowers. Much like public libraries, the spirit behind seed libraries is to promote equity in food and flower growing. And much like public libraries, seed libraries are community efforts. It takes a majority of borrowers to grow the plants and return seeds for a seed library to work.

How does "borrowing" work?

Look through our available seed lists, and then fill out our request form below. You will receive an email confirmation and pick-up dates for you to pick up the packets of seeds you requested. You plant these seeds, tend the plants, and when that plant produces seed, you harvest them. You then provide some of those harvested seeds back to the RBG Seed Library along with information about the plant such as name, cultivar if appropriate, year, and any growing notes. These seeds will then be available for the next year’s seed library for others to borrow and the cycle of borrowing, growing, and returning continues.

How is this different from a seed bank?

Seed libraries are meant to be used. We want people to “borrow” the seeds, plant the seeds, tend the plants, and save some seeds. We then hope that these seeds are “returned” to the seed library for the next year’s seed library offerings.

Seed banks, on the other hand, are meant for deposits and savings. They save seeds for posterity’s (and biodiversity’s) sake. They are often stored in cold storage in disaster-proof buildings and seldom removed. Their purpose is to remain viable until they are needed in cases such as to restock a population or to assist in plant breeding programs.

What happens if my seeds or plants fail, and I don’t have any seeds to return to the seed library?

Many perennials will not produce flowers in the first year, but we would appreciate a donation once they do produce seeds in the following year(s).  We know that not all seeds will produce viable plants. This is why each seed packet contains a number of seeds to help increase your chances of a successful garden. If your seeds or plants fail then we do not expect to have seeds returned and suggest that if you want to discuss reasons for this failure, that you contact RBG’s Gardening Information team.

How do I collect seeds?

Check out this blog entry by Seed Library volunteer, Rita Shaw. It covers the basics of seed collecting for both dry and wet seeds. We will be updating this page as we produce more information on this topic. Also, check out our Courses and Workshops page as RBG occasionally offers seed saving classes in the late summer and fall.

In addition to this, there are many excellent resources on collecting and saving seeds both online and in publications. Here are a few online sources that we recommend:

Can I donate seeds that I did not “borrow” from the seed library?

If you have seeds that you would like to share then contact us at the email address provided below to see if they would be a good fit. When you donate these seeds, please place them in a paper container and provide information about the plant such as name, cultivar if appropriate, year, location of collection, and any growing notes. Provide your contact information in case we have any questions about the plant.

Are these seeds treated or prepped in any way?

No, these seeds are not treated or prepped in a commercial sense. These seeds are collected directly from the plants and separated from their accompanying plant material. They are then stored in sandwich bags until they are ready to be packaged. They are not stratified or scarified prior to being packaged. You can learn more about these processes from wildflower.org.

Each package does come with a germination code that can be found on this downloadable document.

Where do these seeds come from?

Currently our seed library contains seeds that were collected by volunteers from several of RBG’s gardens as well as many that were donated by other gardeners.  Many of the seeds were collected in 2019 and not “borrowed” due to the Covid-19 shutdown of RBG.  Seeds can be viable for several years although some germination rates may be decreased.  The year of collection is noted on the seed list.

Is there a cost to participate in this program?

There is no cost to borrow from RBG’s seed library!

For those who are able, we do ask you to consider making a small donation to help support this initiative, and RBG’s other incredible educational, conservation, and horticultural projects.

Okay, I’m ready. Where do I sign up?

Take a look at the links below under Available Seeds. Make a few selections based on your growing situation. Fill out the form below with your request. We’ll receive your request, pick the seed packets, and get back to you on pick-up dates as soon as we can.

Okay, I’m interested but I have some questions. Who do I ask?

Our seed library volunteers are ready to help you with any questions you may have.  You may contact them using the question and comment area in the form below.  If you have a gardening question about any of the plants then please contact our volunteers at the Gardening Information desk.

Support Programs at RBG

These projects are possible thanks to the generous support of RBG Members and donors. With a donation to Growing up Green, you can ensure an active, vibrant and healthy future for the children of today and tomorrow through our horticultural and conservation projects.