A growing trend: Why seed swaps are taking root

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The Independent Online

News of an event called Seedy Sunday – involving plant-based substances and a visit from Special Branch – to be held in Brighton and Hove may lead you to recall those immortal words of Keith Waterhouse: "Brighton looks like a town that is constantly helping the police with their inquiries."

But it turns out that Seedy Sunday is more of a muddy than a dirty weekend. This is the UK's largest seed swap – a cheap and easy way for gardeners and allotment-holders to replenish their spring seed stock. And Special Branch? It's the name of a tree nursery, based in nearby Stanmer Park, which is taking part.

In a time of make-do, when we're more likely to repair things and buy second-hand, seed swaps are becoming more popular and spreading nationwide. Most take place in February at venues from as far afield as Stonebridge city farm in north-west London to East Kilbride in Scotland.

They tend to be small affairs held at allotment huts or community centres. Certainly they are on a much smaller scale than the 10th anniversary swap to be held at Hove Town Hall tomorrow, when upwards of 2,000 visitors are expected to do brisk trade swapping and donating their stock at the more than 70 stalls.

Some of these have, in the past, given credence to Waterhouse's remarks. One year a gardener turned up with a tray of marijuana seeds for his stall, which was right next door to the city council's.

Not to be outdone, Josie Jeffrey, a 33-year-old Brighton resident and author, is bringing along seed bombs this year. These are used by so-called guerrilla gardeners, and consist of homemade clay balls filled with seeds which can be used as a cheap and effective way to "green up" urban wasteland and roadsides. The seed swap ethos comes naturally to Ms Jeffrey, who grew up living in a family bus collecting and distributing tree saplings and seeds found on her travels. "My mum and dad used to rescue saplings from the sides of roads, pot them up and store them in the belly boxes of the bus and find new homes for them along the way.

"The whole thing with seed swaps and seed bombs is that because they are so different to the usual way of seed distributing – it draws people in. Over the years I've been holding more and more seed-bomb workshops at schools, community events and even music festivals, all over."

As well as the novelty, low costs are another reason for the popularity of seed swaps, which are either free to enter or charge a nominal fee. Once you are in you can pick and choose from a welter of old English varieties. Seeds are displayed in brown paper sachets labelled with hastily written descriptions or more ornate stamps, and you swap those you've saved over the year or make a small donation.

In this way gardeners can cut a hefty chunk from the cost of their annual seed order. One seasoned allotmenteer reported saving around £100 or more each year for a co-operative plot with four allotments; the outlay would otherwise have been in the region of £240.

Another feel-good factor for today's new breed of thrifty gardener is that the events help maintain local biodiversity. Seed swaps preserve the heritage varieties of fruit and vegetables and become a way round laws which dictate that unless you register a particular strain – which can cost £300 – you cannot buy or sell it.

One of the Seedy Sunday organisers, Fran Saunders, explained: "Events like this helped me with my gardening. All the volunteers here give up their time and know-how because they believe in it 100 per cent. We're looking to do more in the community with workshops on seed saving, and a possible seed bank."

Seedy Sunday, Hove Town Hall, tomorrow, 10am-4.30pm, £2 entry. For more information, and for a list of other seed swap events, go to www.seedysunday.org

This month's events

* Bradford on Avon's First Seedy Sunday Tomorrow, 11am-1pm, St Margaret's Hall, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire



* Haringey Seed Swap Tomorrow, 2-4pm, Tottenham Chances Club, High Road, Tottenham, London



* Whitstable Seed Swap

12 February, 9.30am-2pm, Farmers' Market, Oxford Street, Whitstable, Kent



* Totnes Seedy Sunday

12 February, 10am-3pm, Birdwood House, 44 High Street, Totnes, Devon



* Horsham Seedy Saturday

19 February, 10am-4pm, Friends Meeting House, Worthing Road, Horsham, West Sussex



* Waddesdon Seed Weekend 19, 20 February, Waddesdon Plant Centre, Queen Street, Waddesdon, Nr Aylesbury, Bucks



* Newtown Seed Swap 19 February, 12-3pm, Unit H, Vastre Road Ind Est, Newtown, Powys



* Scottish Seed Save Event 19 Feb, 12-3pm, Old Parish Church Hall, Glebe Street, East Kilbride



* Grow Sheffield Seed Swap

20 February, 1-4pm, The Old Sharrow Junior School, Southview Road, Sheffield



* Bath Organic Seed Swap

20 February, 2-4.30pm, St Marks Community Centre, St Marks Road, Bath



* Arundel Seed Swap 27 February, 1-4pm, Norfolk Hall, Mill Rd, Arundel, West Sussex

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