Warm morning sun filters through the windows of a conference room at the Grow Pittsburgh office in Pittsburgh. It’s 10 degrees outside, but around the table everyone is thinking about the upcoming gardening season.
Alyssa Kail, the sustainability coordinator for the nonprofit, is thrilled to talk about a great free gardening event called A Celebration of Seeds: 7th Annual Seed and Plant Swap. It will be held Feb. 23 at the main branch of the Carnegie Library in Oakland. The event has grown annually, and Kail has witnessed lots of gardeners leave with not only great seeds, but sometimes new friends, too.
“We want them to get excited about their gardens this year,” she says with a smile, “whether they are experienced or a novice.”
“Folks can bring leftover seeds from last year to trade for other seeds or can look through the donations from generous seed companies,” she added.
Fresh seed that has been stored correctly would be best, something that has a pretty good chance of sprouting, and don’t bring something invasive like morning glories as those seeds won’t make it to the table. If a gardener doesn’t have seeds to trade, they can come and get a few things, too. It’s important to remember this is all about sharing.
Learning the basics
“It’s self regulated,” Kail says. “We do remind people that one seed equals one plant. If you don’t need an entire packet of tomato seed, we provide small seed envelopes.”
It’s tempting to take the whole packet, with pretty photos and written information, but it’s easy enough to jot down the details or take a phone photo. That way, lots of gardeners can enjoy the seeds.
“It’s a community event which is meant to be inclusive, there’s plenty for everyone,” she says. “It’s high energy, it’s lots of fun and it’s also very informational.”
There will be three workshops and tables staffed by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Allegheny County Conservation Districts, BUGS (The Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers Cooperative of Pittsburgh) Grow Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and more. There are activities for kids and teens, too. The workshops include Organic Gardening, Seed Saving Basics and Seed Starting Basics.
Lauren Delorenze, the community outreach coordinator at Phipps, will be teaching the organic gardening workshop and has been part of the event for years.
“It gives people access to a wide variety of seeds instead of having to buy a whole packet of seed,” she says.
Gardeners who bring seeds to trade get in early to the trading rooms and will be entered into a raffle for great garden prizes. There’s also a place to tell seed stories, about the seeds being brought and traded along with a photo booth provided by the library to link the story with a picture. Delorenze has her own personal family plant story.
Sharing seeds and stories
“When my great-grandfather lived in Italy, he bred, grew and propagated calla lilies; he even created his own variety. When he came to the U.S., he brought some of the bulbs with him and propagated them for friends and family,” she says. “Members of my family still grow the descendents of his bulbs every season in our gardens and care for his legacy. My mother’s cousin even named a restaurant Calla Lily in his onor.”
There will be everything from heirloom tomato seeds grown from generations, interesting squashes, birdhouse gourds, flowers, herbs and a wide variety of surprising cultivars too.
“Little kids are looking at the table and they see purple carrot seeds,” Delorenze says, “and they had no idea they could be purple.”
An entire room is earmarked for vegetables, another for flowers and herbs, and there will even be some cool weather seedlings available.
“The crowd gets in a frenzy if someone brings in a tray of live plants,” Kail says laughing.
“There’s lots of camaraderie,” she adds with a smile, “seeing the hundreds of people coming through and everyone is enthusiastic, excited about the potential of growing for this year. It’s an organic sharing experience.”