Third seed exchange at Blandy

Posted: January 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

Donna Downing, co-chair of the third annual Seed Exchange, sorts seeds. This year’s event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the library at Blandy Experimental Farm. It is free and open to the public.

Boyce — The third annual Seed Exchange at Blandy Experimental Farm will give gardeners more chances than ever to build up their gardens this year.

A book exchange and two talks have been added to the event, which gives gardeners the opportunity to pick up and share plants and seeds, said Donna Downing, co-chair.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the library at Blandy, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce. It is free and open to the public.

“Any time you can encourage people to get into gardening is good,” said Downing of Winchester. “So many people can order a pizza but have no idea how to grow a tomato.”

The seed exchange is sponsored by Our Shop Under the Arch at the State Arboretum of Virginia.

About 130 people came to the public seed exchange in 2012, said Pam DeBergh, co-chair. People walked between the different tables and could pick up seeds or plants for vegetables, annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and herbs to take home.

“It is a friendly way of dispersing seeds and information between gardeners and people who like gardening with both flowers and edible gardening,” said DeBergh of Winchester.

Last year’s event had a book signing, but in lieu of that, organizers planned a gardening book exchange this year, Downing said. It will be a one-for-one exchange, so people can pick a new book for each one they bring.

Downing is thrilled and has already picked books out of her collection to exchange, including books on gardening for children, a country garden, and creating a man’s garden.

“It is a delightful book, but I am not sure I will ever get my husband gardening,” she said with a smile.

The books that aren’t selected will be donated to a local Junior Master Gardeners program.

Michael Neese, Winchester’s refuse and recycling coordinator, will offer tips on composting, recycling and starting a community garden, Downing said. He held the area’s first seed exchanges in 2008 and 2009 before it combined with Blandy’s.

Downing will also offer a lecture on growing sea holly and will have several packets of the perennial to give out. The trick with sea holly is to put the seeds in wet paper towels in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator for 90 days before planting, she said.

“If you get them in your refrigerator now, by late spring, they are ready to put in a pot or even in the ground,” she said.

Some of the flower seeds given by the volunteer committee include baptisia, black-eyed Susans, four o’clocks, larkspur, rose of Sharon, hollyhocks and swamp hibiscus, Downing said.

At the vegetable seed table, people can choose from packets of beans, broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, peas, spinach, squash and tomatoes.

The herbs offered will include basil, rue, fennel, dill, cilantro, thyme and oregano.

People who bring in seeds are asked to have them in small envelopes marked with the common name and color of the plant or with the Latin name of the species.

Those bringing seeds to share this Saturday are welcome to bring commercial seeds, but should not bring invasive plants or invasive plant seeds, Downing said. A list of invasive species for Virginia can be found on the Virginia Native Plant Society’s website at

The fun is also seeing what new and different plants are brought in each year, Downing said. “Last year, somebody brought some redbuds and some white redbuds.”

Talking to and learning from other gardeners is another valuable part of the seed exchange, DeBergh said. Some volunteers walk around and try to help out or educate people as needed.

“But usually the person who is bringing the seeds hangs around for a while and will tell other people who show interest in the seeds what it is all about or what his or her luck had been with that particular seed,” she said.

People usually come in with all kinds of questions, and the master gardeners and other experienced gardeners at the event are willing to give advice and share their own experiences, Downing said.

“I want people to be excited about growing tomatoes or sea holly or whatever they find at the seed exchange,” she said. “I also want them to have learned something.”

In addition to the seeds and books, people who come to the exchange have a chance to win one of five door prizes handed out throughout the day, she said. Prizes include Michael Dirr’s newest encyclopedia of trees and shrubs, a hand-painted screen for a buffet table, and a gift certificate to attend the Master Gardeners Day at Shenandoah University.


The third annual Seed Exchange at Blandy Experimental Farm, 400 Blandy Farm Lane, Boyce, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the library. It is free and open to the public. Call 540-837-1758, ext. 289, or go to

— Contact Laura McFarland at