Back in the old days—before Blotanical, before the first garden blogs, even before the first on-line gardening forums—getting involved in local garden clubs and national gardening organizations was one of the best ways to connect with other obsessed gardeners. Blogging now gives us practically instant access to each other and lets us “visit” other gardeners around the globe. But you know, there’s still a lot to be said for those long-established organizations. One that’s always been special to me is The Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group (HPS/MAG).
It was nearly 20 years ago when I attended my first HPS/MAG plant exchange, bearing a flat of tiny perennial seedlings that I’d grown on my apartment balcony. I realize now that my offerings were pretty pathetic compared to the generously sized divisions and stocky seedlings the other participants brought, but the other members made me feel so welcome that I was encouraged to keep attending meetings and lectures, and the sale became the highlight of my year. The group still has a spring sale of member-donated plants, along with a fall “vendor” sale (a variety of nurseries bring their wares to one central location), and there are still a variety of lectures, trips, and other activities to choose from. But one of my favorite things about the group—and one that might be of interest to the rest of you, no matter where you live—is the HPS/MAG Seed Exchange.
Now finishing its 14th season, the Seed Exchange is organized by an amazing group of volunteers. This past year, they handled approximately 900 seed donations from 67 gardeners and organizations. The catalog they produce each year is invaluable in itself, packed with detailed descriptions and germination information provided by the donors. (I’ll also mention that it looks much nicer than my scan of the cover indicates.) For just $15, members get to order 25 packets; if you donate seed too, you get 35 picks. Just on a per-packet price, you can’t beat it.
Bargain shopping isn’t what this list is all about, though. You might guess from the group name that you’d find mostly hardy perennials, and there are lots of those, but there are also all kinds of annuals, tender perennials, bulbs, aquatics, shrubs, trees, and vines, many of which you can’t easily get elsewhere. Some are old favorites; others aren’t even in the trade yet. Among the donors are institutions and nurseries such as Chanticleer in PA, Greenwood Gardens in NJ, Point Phillip Perennials in PA, Sugarbush Nursery in PA, Plant Delights Nursery in NC, Scott Arboretum in PA, Odyssey Bulbs in MA, Stonecrop Gardens in NY, Temple University in PA, and Wave Hill in NY. HPS/MAG members tend to be inveterate plant collectors, so many of the seeds contributed by individual gardeners are equally choice.
In a way, I guess it’s cruel of me to tell you about all this, because the exchange is about finished sending out seeds for the 2007-2008 season. Just like a garden, though, the seed exchange never really ends: As soon as the last packet goes out, the committee starts planning for the next season, and members start collecting as soon as the first early-bloomers ripen their seeds. So, if you’re already a seed fanatic, you could join now, collect seeds from your garden through this upcoming season, and become an integral part of the exchange next winter. Not sure you’re ready to contribute? Consider joining anyway (at www.hardyplant.org), so you’ll receive the catalog next December. Chances are, once you’ve participated once, you’ll be hooked!