Roots and Shoots: Sparks of Future Plants

Erin McNally

Erin McNally works in the pollinator garden at the Desmond-Fish Library. (Photo by P. Doan)

While I still have a lot of blooming plants in my yard, the countdown is here and each day moves the garden closer to its season of rest. The mix of dry, spent blooms and pops of color is the true mark of fall, along with the changing shades of leaves. During every season I think, “Oh yes, this is my favorite,” but I love each one differently.

As those flower heads finish their cycle, they have the spark of new growth contained in their brown husks. Saving seeds from your plants is an affordable way to expand a garden and they make great gifts for gardener friends. How nice to share a piece of joy from your landscape.

Whether collecting seeds from vegetables or flowers, it can be challenging to get started. Fortuitously, there is a workshop coming up: On Oct. 15, Master Gardeners from the Cornell Cooperative Extension will be at the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison to provide gardeners with a well-timed boost.

Erin McNally, a workshop leader, said it will be hands-on. “We will walk through the pollinator garden on the library grounds and collect seeds,” she said. “Then we will do rough cleaning inside and label and store the seeds.” Participants can take some seeds home to plant in their yards and others will go to the program office for a seed-sowing workshop in the winter. By collecting seeds from the more than 60 species in the pollinator garden, gardeners will know that the plants are healthy and adapted to local conditions.

“This is a great way to share the bounty of the native plant garden with the community,” McNally said.

The Desmond-Fish pollinator garden was designed by Jennifer Lerner, an educator with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. It was part of a site plan that included a walking path, meadow-style plantings and memorial gardens. A team of Master Gardeners and other volunteers planted the garden and has been nurturing it along, weeding and watering.

Of course, the first step to collecting seeds is properly identifying the plant and making sure the seeds are labeled correctly with the scientific name, not just the common name, which can be misleading. The Master Gardeners will guide participants and demonstrate how to access the seeds from each plant.

“We’ll be sure to leave a good amount of seed for birds and wildlife,” noted McNally, who has observed birds picking at echinacea and rudbeckia plants during the winter months in her own yard.

The library’s pollinator garden has perennials that grow in full sun, part sun and part shade. For a list, see “Our Great Outdoors” under the Events + Community tab at (There is a difference between plants that prefer part sun and part shade: While both terms mean four to six hours of sunlight, part-sun plants lean toward the six-hour maximum and part-shade plants lean toward the four-hour minimum. The time of day when the plants are in the sun also matters. Part-shade plants will do best with morning sun rather than the heat of the afternoon.)

Collecting seeds isn’t helpful if they are stored poorly. An important part of the workshop will be demonstrating how to break the seeds out of their coating, clean them and contain them. With too much moisture, the seeds can rot or get moldy. If the coating isn’t removed, they won’t germinate.

If you haven’t walked the library path and experienced the garden yet, there is still plenty of action. There are multiple types of asters, goldenrods and yarrow blooming now. It’s a true four-season space with a lot to appreciate any time of year.

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