Loss of seed suppliers

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Sat, 18 Sep 2010 14:30:45 PDT
Michael Mace discussed the loss of several seed-supplying businesses. 
The causes have ranged from death to simple exhaustion on the part of 
the collectors, and in the case of Flores and Watson I believe it was 
mainly restrictions on seed exporting from Chile. (I don't know how 
Chileflora gets around that, but I've heard good things about their 
seeds.) We've also seen a falling-off, to some extent, in the 
offerings of the Czech collectors, who now have better access to the 
West and its currency, and of course they too are aging.

I was just thinking this morning that it's about time for some 
subscription-supported seed collecting trips. Chris Chadwell was the 
best-known practitioner of this in recent decades, and his 
subscribers were not always happy with what they got (it was widely 
thought that a few elite English growers scooped the cream, and we 
Americans ended up with the skimmed milk). A couple of years ago 
there was an attempt in this direction jointly by NARGS and the 
Denver Botanic Garden, in Morocco; I have a few accessions from that 
collection (and am just now beginning to identify them), but it 
wasn't as successful as had been hoped, perhaps because of the brief 
time period made available for collecting and some other factors I heard about.

I've been trying to persuade people to grow their bulbs from seed for 
a long time. I started doing so in the mid-1980s and now have about 
1,500 geophyte species, at least 3/4 of them from seed. I distributed 
many of them, with collection information, through my surplus lists, 
and have passed on part of the collection to a grower who will have a 
catalog out in the next year or two. Some of everything is now 
planted in my brand new bulb house (at least, some of everything that 
has survived -- and many of the plants there are 15 to 20 years old).

Seed collecting is a grueling occupation. Ron Ratko of Northwest 
Native Seeds basically lived in his pickup truck much of the year, 
surveying plant populations and returning at the right time to 
collect seeds. Then cataloging, describing, packaging, and mailing 
the orders takes all winter.

One successful approach was developed by Andrew Osyany of Ontario, 
who for some years issued a catalog called "Karmic Exotix." During 
the period when Czechoslovakia was behind the Iron Curtain, he 
received seeds from various Czech collectors (who could travel freely 
in Soviet Central Asia, for instance, and were also great growers) 
and put out a collated list offering the seeds to North American rock 
gardeners. The collectors sent their seeds to Andrew already packeted 
and specified the price they wanted (the prices were very 
reasonable). It was a kind of elite seed exchange, except that it 
cost more. I believe Andrew did this out of the goodness of his 
heart, and of course for access to the seeds (he too is a great 
grower), but someone could make a little business out of being a 
middleman for a group of collectors; indeed, the Archibalds have for 
years offered the collections of some others, such as Flores and 
Watson and John Blanchard.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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