Wednesday, December 22, 2010

seeds vs seedlings: a tale of garden snobbery

The other night at the pub, I got into an animated discussion with a guy who thought that buying seedlings (vs seeds) was the ultimate gardening laziness.  It was not the first time I'd come across such plant 'purists' (as I think they'd like to be known), and it seems to be the gardening equivalent to competitive backpacking.

As a keen gardener, but also a reasonably time poor (and often cash poor) gardener I believe that seedlings have a valid place in a backyard garden, and here are a couple of reasons why:
  • A punnet of seedlings often costs the same as a packet of seeds.  If you're anything like me, you don't want an entire packet's worth of spotted Turkish gourds, so it makes sense to just buy a ready sprouted punnet, particularly if you know that you can save the seeds for a following year (if the spotted gourds are worth it).  If you're fortunate enough to have a local seedling producer such as Hobart Kitchen Gardens, who sells individual pumpkin seedlings for $1 each, which have been grown from seeds produced by the Tasmanian-based Lost Seed company (they specialise in heirloom, true-to-type seeds, which means that you can reliably save seeds), then you'll actually be saving money with the knowledge that you can grow them again next year with the saved seeds.  A couple of months ago, I bought 3 pumpkins from the HKG stall at the Melville St Farmer's Market. All three were of different varieties and cost me $3 overall.  If I'd bought seeds, it would've cost me almost $10 for the 3 packets.  Yes, I would've had about 25 seeds in each packet, vs the one pumpkin seedling, but considering that I have a number of butternuts that I've grown from seed already (last year's saved seeds), who has room for that many pumpkins in a suburban backyard?
  • Scenario 1: you've planted a packet of basil, and watched as the seeds sprouted, the little seedlings growing under your loving care as the spring weather warms the ground.  You're dreaming of all the pesto you're going to make etc etc.... and then one night, when they're about 3 cm tall, the entire patch is decimated by snails, an evil army of snails.  True story.  In this case, my solution was to buy another packet of seeds, but also buy a punnet of basil, so that I'd have some already started at the same growth as my homegrown seedlings.  When the beasts attack, seedlings are great consolation presents...
  • Scenario 2: you've dug up a patch of weeds, and want to fill it quickly and cheaply with some colour.  So you go buy those tubs of pansies that are always for sale at 5 for $5 or something like that.  The pansies not only fill a gap, but are great for blocking weeds from coming up, particularly as they spread quite rapidly.  (plus, this is kinda embarrassing, but I cannot, for some perverse reason, grow pansies from seed.  If anyone has any tips, please share)
  • You're new to gardening, you want to start off nice and easy, and it's a lot quicker and easier to buy seedlings than seeds, particularly as a lot of seeds need special conditions to sprout.  Don't feel guilty about buying seedlings, there's no shame.
Mr competitive gardener, I'll repeat, there's no shame in buying seedlings, just like there's no shame in wanting to see the Louvre, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Tower of London, the Angkor Wat, the Statue of Liberty, or the Sydney Opera House...

Rant over.

Incidently, I've been growing some things by seed in pots before I transfer them into the ground.  I've had little or no limited luck growing things like lebanese cucumbers, sunflowers, snapdragons, and pansies from seed in the ground, so it's often better to grow them in punnets and then transfer them to the ground later (something that I've only just acknowledged).  Some of the punnets, such as the Tigerella tomatoes and many butternut pumpkins have been given away as Christmas presents.

Pictured below are my 'flower' seeds: Sunflowers in the foreground, Zinnias on the right middle, black pansies and snapdragons in the unchanged pots (of course):

At one week
After 2 weeks. Note the still empty Pansy punnets... Oh and 'Nola' -the grape - is in the front
Below: The 'vege' box (I'm still finding a use for those beloved polystyrene boxes). Tigerella and Gardener's delight seedlings in the far top right, lebanese cucumbers, to the left of them, silverbeet in the middle left, experimental watermelon (I don't know how I'll go in Tassie's cool climate) on the bottom right, and more butternut pumpkins on the bottom:

One week in (note the number of black ex-pansy pots)

Two weeks later (with a couple of presents for friends missing)


  1. I generally plant seedlings too. The only thing I have grown this year from seed is my broad beans, which were spectacularly, amazingly, awesomely successful.


  2. Broad beans are strange plants. My original broad beans were puny unproductive things, but somehow their seeds 'flew' about 5 meters into a more ornamental part of the garden and their 'children' are happily bean producing amongst the daisies. I should post a photo because it's quite amusing.

  3. Good luck with your watermelons, Lucy. I successfully grew watermelons in Launceston last year, ended up with four HUGE melons, just delicious (and grown from seedlings!). This year I've successfully raised both watermelons and canteloupe from seeds and expect similar success, particularly given we are forecast a long, hot and wet summer. As long as they have maximum sun you should be fine.

  4. I had no idea there was a snob factor to seedlings vs seeds, though I guess it doesn't surprise me. I wonder if they apply the same rules to buying things like saplings or other slower growing plants?