Let’s hear it for seeds. Buying seed from catalogues is to my mind the most exciting form of catalogue buying. This is because for the price of one nursery plant (and a little more effort) one can have dozens of plants. When it comes to lettuce plants, this may not be so exciting. But if we’re looking at the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) or a striped tomato, it can be the difference between having enough and not having any.
For unusual and heirloom vegetable seeds, grown organically, the best source of supply is Koanga Gardens. Send an SAE to Koanga Gardens, Main Rd, Kaiwaka, New Zealand, for more information. I have grown some lovely tomatoes from Koanga mixes, including a pear-shaped yellow ‘cherry’ tomato, a striped tomato, and an almost black tomato. These make such pretty salads. My father and I also split a packet of pumpkin seeds from Koanga, and grew the ‘for seed’ pumpkins he remembered from his prisoner of war days in Austria. These make the most delicious cooking oil. (Unfortunately we didn’t get that far.) Koanga also has a great range of unusual beans, peas and corn — all well worth trying.
Another source of open-pollinated, non-chemically treated seed in New Zealand is Eco Seeds, which has a good range of common herb and vegetable seeds. Catalogues can be downloaded from their website and sent to Eco Seeds, PO Box 12075, Thorndon, Wellington.
Not organic, but with a great range of flower, herb and vege seeds (especially Oriental and unusual veges) is Kings Seeds. Catalogues can be ordered from their website at www.kingsseeds.co.nz or from Box 283, Katikati 3063, New Zealand. Kings’ catalogue is in full colour — this can lead to the ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’ effect when it comes to ordering. Tempted by the pretty pictures, we order more than we can realistically sow and tend. So if you are one of those people who, like Oscar Wilde, can resist everything except temptation, you need to watch this one.
Most people don’t think of growing trees from seed, but if you have a large area to plant, this can be a very practical approach. Many attractive native trees and shrubs grow quickly and easily from seed — you can enhance your own property and have some to give to give away or sell on a fundraising stall. Growing more natives is an important part of developing an organic, sustainable growing strategy for both domestic and commercial growers. Native species are part of the ecological balance that we are trying to restore so that we have complex, stable ecosystems that are not vulnerable to devastation by a pest species getting out of control, as happens with simple, unstable monocultures. You can buy native and other tree seeds from New Zealand Tree Seeds, P.O. Box 435, Rangiora 8254, New Zealand — see their website to find out what's available. The other seeds include useful economic species, such as eucalypts for woodlots. Just one word of warning, if you haven’t caught up with the news yet — if you want to do a true restoration with natives, rather than an amenity planting, you must source the seed locally (preferably collected from local wild places). Species adapt to local conditions and make genetic changes accordingly — this is the true meaning of biodiversity and we need to recognise and affirm it when we try and recover what is being lost.
Finally, for a mouth-watering choice of seeds, including lots of species and varieties not usually available in New Zealand, it is worth ordering a catalogue from one of the specialist English seed firms. I have grown lots of interesting and lovely plants from the Chiltern Seeds catalogue, which has over 2,000 species and varieties to chose from, including organic seeds, annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees, bulbs, climbers, herbs and vegetables. The address is Chiltern Seeds, Bortree Stile, Ulverston. Cumbria LA 12 7PB, England. You can pay for the catalogue and the plants via the internet by Visa, Mastercard or American Express, which makes ordering easier. But before you send off your order, check with the local Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry office that you haven’t ordered a prohibited plant. Otherwise when your order arrives in New Zealand it will be checked, and if there are any prohibited species they will be confiscated and you will have wasted your money. Prohibited plants include ones that are or are likely to become noxious weeds in New Zealand — these include common and desirable garden plants like St JohnsWort and ginger. Also plants that may carry diseases capable of infecting economic species in New Zealand - this includes ornamental varieties of the tobacco plant, Nicotiana, and other plants you might not suspect.
New Zealand has in recent years experienced a biosecurity crisis of unprecedented proportions. Organic growers are especially vulnerable to these invaders, as they have a limited range of sustainable controls available to them. Home gardeners have to be responsible as commercial growers — so make sure your seeds are safe.
For details of seed suppliers see