RHS Seed Scheme

How often do we subscribe to organisations or take out memberships and yet fail to take full advantage of them? I have been signed up to the Royal Horticultural Society for almost 20 years, and the National Trust for longer (having joined at birth, obviously), but take advantage of little that they offer, very rarely.

For the last couple of years I have been determined to enjoy more of what the RHS provides its members, including access to the wonderful gardens at Harlow Carr, Rosemoor, Wisley and Hyde Hall. I attend the Chelsea Flower Show (I suspect for many the primary motivation for joining the RHS), Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and as many of the London events as I am able, but have never availed myself of the seed scheme. This exclusive benefit allows members to select up to twelve packets of seed harvested from the RHS’ own gardens. The choice, of 139 single varieties and 9 collections, ranges from bulbous plants to annuals and even trees. Many are not widely available and some require a little expertise to germinate. The RHS has all that covered with their handy germination guide, which any amateur gardener would find a useful companion.

A nominal fee of £8.50 is levied to cover the cost of collection, cleaning, packing and postage. At 70p a packet this makes the seeds an absolute steal, and definitely worth experimenting with even if you’re not 100% confident. The process of making a selection online is a little protracted, but how can choosing seed be anything other than fun? The RHS website instructions are clear, but it helps to have a printed copy of the seed list to hand. Orders can be placed until March 31st (so still plenty of time), but it may take until late April for seeds to arrive, which is a little late to be starting some varieties.

With such limited space, and a propensity to overdo it, I really struggled to choose as many as a dozen packets. However, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and any seeds I don’t have room to sow this year will be given away as gifts.

The flower of Cleome hassleriana really live up to their common name, spider flower
The flower of Cleome hassleriana really live up to their common name, spider flower

My First Choice Seed List:

  1. Cleome hassleriana (spider flower) – an annual that I have never quite mastered the art of cultivating, but love the look of. The RHS mix has pink, purple and white flowered variants, all with the cleome’s conspicuous stamens.
  2. Eccremocarpus scaber (Chilean glory flower) – I have done well with this fast-growing, tender, evergreen perennial climber previously. The clusters of tubular, reddish-orange flowers that appear throughout summer are totally tropical.
  3. Ipomoea lobata (Mina lobata) – a tender perennial climber that I grow from seed every year, despite it being perennial. Each reddish flower stalk carries scarlet flowers which mature to orange and then fade to cream. Sown late, it will flower well into October and November.
  4. Gaura lindheimeri (white gaura) I am planning to plant this bushy perennial in dark grey troughs where the billowing clouds of blush blossom will conceal the fading stems of lilies.

    An effervescent cloud of  Gaura lindheimeri at Hotel Endsleigh, Devon
    An effervescent cloud of Gaura lindheimeri at Hotel Endsleigh, Devon
  5. Mirabilis jalapa (marvel of Peru) reminds me of warmer climes, such as India, where it really flourishes. Very easy to germinate and forms bushy, tuberous plants with fragrant flowers that open only in the afternoon. Flower colours range from white to lemon-yellow and magenta.
  6. Cyclamen mirabile – this is not a cyclamen I am familiar with, but judging by the catalogue it’s delicate and feminine with pink petals, slightly toothed at the tips. The rounded leaves are marbled above with a purplish underside.
  7. Gentiana asclepiadea (willow gentian) – this is such a graceful perennial, with its arching stems bearing stunning deep blue flowers just when everything else is starting to fade in early autumn. Every woodland garden should have some.

    The white form of Gentiana asclepiadea is named 'Alba'
    The white form of Gentiana asclepiadea is named ‘Alba’
  8. Hosta tokudama f. aureo-nebulosa – I have never considered growing hostas from seed before. It feels like establishing decent sized plants might take many years, but who cares? The RHS promise ‘green-yellow leaves, irregularly margined and splashed deep blue-green’. Sounds divine!
  9. Leonurus cardiaca – I fully admit this was a mistake. I took my eye off the catalogue whilst watching a particularly gripping drama on TV and thought I had ordered Leonotis leonurus, which is something magnificent, orange and quite different. This plant is a perennial with spires of pink to lilac flowers borne in whorls during July and August.
  10. Veratrum album subsp. lobelianum – the corrugated, apple-green leaves alone are enough to commend this gorgeous plant, but it flowers too! I can’t wait to have a go at growing Veratrum album, even if I don’t really have any space to plant it out.

    Veratrum album in the Nuttery at Sissinghurst
    Pleated leaves of Veratrum album in the Nuttery at Sissinghurst
  11. Rehmannia elata (Chinese foxglove) – I don’t fancy my chances with this one, but am happy to give it a go. I have killed at least two nursery-bought plants, so my ineptitude will cost me less dearly this time. Rehmannia elata is a soft, lanky perennial with deeply toothed leaves and floppy racemes of magenta pink flowers in summer. Too good to be confined to China.
  12. Euphorbia x pasteurii – regarded by many as superior to Euphorbia mellifera AGM, which grows brilliantly for me, however inappropriate the conditions. Similar habit and honey-scented, insignificant flowers, but broader, glossier leaves than its cousin.

I’d love to know if you’ve bought seeds as part of the RHS seed scheme and how you got on.