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‘Borrow’ from Master Gardeners seed library and ‘return’ later

Highland Lakes Master Gardeners seed library in Burnet

Organizing the Highland Lakes Master Gardeners’ harvest of seeds for a newly established seed library are Patti Young, Susan Young, Ann McClanahan, and Samantha Melvin. The seed library is open to the public to borrow, grow, and donate seeds. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

The Highland Lakes Master Gardeners recently planted a seed library in the lobby of the Burnet County AgriLife building, 607 Vandeveer in Burnet. Gardeners of all skill levels can “borrow” up to five packets of seeds at a time to grow in their yards, gardens, or containers. In turn, they are asked to harvest seeds from the results and label, package, and “return” them to the library.

“This is a way of sharing seeds with the community,” said Samantha Melvin, who organized the project with the help of a committee of fellow Master Gardeners. “It’s a wonderful way of creating that cycle of life, encouraging gardeners of all levels to participate in that process. “

The idea took root when Melvin saw a free seed library in Portland, Oregon. It was designed as an offshoot of the Little Free Library book boxes seen in neighborhoods across the country, including in Burnet County. The Master Gardeners plowed into the project and invited Central Texas Seeds Savers volunteer Louise Placek of Bastrop to their September meeting for the launch. In a presentation, Placek explained what bringing such a program to fruition would yield.

“Saving seeds is protecting our botanical heritage,” she said. “Our lives depend on seeds. Each time we lose a plant variety, we lose a piece of ourselves and our human history.” 

Central Texas Seed Savers is a project of Fruitful Commons, a nonprofit that supports neighbors and organizations in growing food to strengthen communities. Seed Savers set up seed exchanges in select Austin public libraries.

Placek demonstrated how to harvest seeds from an overripe tomato and explained best practices for preserving treasured heirloom plants, which she calls “pass-along” plants, those that have been lovingly grown in gardens for generations and shared with friends and neighbors. 

“Like heirlooms, almost all have a story,” she said. “Being able to distribute seeds from people who have grown them out and love them and know them and share them is a great way to build community. I think it is powerfully important.”

This is how the seed library works. Growers put the seeds they harvest in labeled packets in the library for other gardeners to take and sow. Detailed instructions are available online and at the seed library. Gardeners then harvest seeds from the resulting plants, place them in packets, and return them to the seed library. 

“It ties in beautifully with food security and empowering people to consider what they can grow on their own,” Melvin said. “They may be beautiful flowers for the sake of growing lovely plants or herbs and vegetables.” 

An artist and art educator, Melvin painted the seed box, which was built by her son, in a whimsical style of black-and-white checks and brightly colored flowers. Members of the Master Gardeners seed committee submitted their favorite famous gardening quotes, which Melvin added in white lettering against a black background. 

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” reads a quote from actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn. 

“Bloom where you are planted” is attributed to Bishop of Geneva Saint Frances de Sales (1567-1622). 

The newly established seed library is fully stocked with donations from Backbone Valley Nursery in Marble Falls. Seed committee members added their own, alphabetized them, and created a printed inventory that will be updated on a regular basis. A reference manual is available on site as well as a QR code that leads borrowers and donors to the library’s webpage with planting schedules for Central Texas, seed harvesting tips, and other gardening information. 

“This is a growing resource for the community,” Melvin said. “Not only for Master Gardeners but anyone starting out. You don’t have to plant a huge garden. Put a vegetable in your flower garden and test it out. That’s what’s so wonderful about gardening. Once you start, you develop a passion for it that grows over time.”

The Highland Lakes Master Gardeners seed library is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday in the lobby of the Burnet County AgriLife building, 607 Vandeveer in Burnet.