Sowing Seeds

If you’re looking to grow a garden, the Austin Public Library’s Central location has the perfect resource to help get you started. A repurposed card catalog on the sixth floor of the library contains enough flower power to establish over 30,000 plants and is totally free to the public.

Known as The Seed Collection, this card catalogue acts as a seed library, where patrons can both “check out” and “return” packets of seeds. Thanks to the combined efforts of the library and the Central Texas Seed Savers group, visitors can take home four packets of seeds per visit (with each packet containing 10 to 20 seeds, depending on their size), including unique varieties grown by home gardeners that are rarely available for purchase at nurseries.

Local gardening educator and founder of Central Texas Seed Savers, Colleen Dieter, started the seed library after hearing about the idea from an attendee at one of her seed saving classes at the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown. “In October 2018 we had our first seed swap at the Central Library, and that was before the seed library even opened,” Dieter says. “People just visiting the library stopped in to check out the swap, and they couldn't believe that there were free seeds there … All it takes is a few gardeners saving their seeds to make enough seeds for everyone, because the plants are so prolific. That's one of the really fun things about it, too, is that I think it gets people feeling a sense of abundance.”

In addition to the delight that comes from scoring gardening stock for free, The Seed Collection gives visitors access to seeds that are known to grow well in our area. “Our climate and soil conditions in Central Texas are extremely unique to this particular place,” Dieter says. “When choosing plants — not just food crops but also herbs and landscape plants and cut flowers — it's really important for us to protect the plants that grow well here, because a lot of them don't perform well in other places.”

“Knowing that someone in the community has experience growing these seeds, and that they did well for someone else, takes some of the initial risk out of trying something new,” Dieter says. “It makes you feel a little more brave because they were endorsed by another local gardener.”

Because donations or “returns” to the seed library come in a variety of forms, from pods to large amounts of seeds that need to be parsed out, Central Texas Seed Savers hosts seed sorting volunteer nights at the library, typically on the first Monday of every month. Dieter encourages any gardeners or folks interested in gardening to stop by so they can learn about the handy practice and methods of seed saving.

“It's empowering for everyday people to take something tiny like a seed and plant it and watch it grow and enjoy that experience,” Dieter says. “That's all part of the richness of life, and being able to share that with other gardeners is important to me.”

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by DARBY KENDALL / photography by Hans Braxmeier and Joshua Lanzarini