A seed library is a genetic gold mine, teeming with imaginative varieties of vegetables, curiously named plants and an enchanting legacy of heirlooms. Luckily for Buncombe County gardeners, there are two of them in the area open to the public.
“Seeds are like gifts,” says Lyndall Noyes-Brownell, master gardener and director of the Black Mountain Blooms Seed Lending Library at the Black Mountain Public Library. “People have been saving them for more than 12,000 years. We should be cherishing them. Growing them is an easy way to get people connected to the earth.”
At Blooms, which launched for the season in March and is open six days a week, members have the opportunity to stock their gardens with more than 200 varieties of tomatoes, beans, eggplants, peppers, herbs, flowers and more. Most of the seeds are heirlooms passed down over generations. All of them are open-pollinated by insects, birds, wind and other natural mechanisms.
The best part: It’s a free service for anyone with a North Carolina library card. Members can choose up to three seeds per individual plant they plan to grow and 10 plant varieties per season, for a total of 30 seeds. “If they take more, that’s fine, too,” adds Noyes-Brownell.
Ramsey Library at UNC Asheville also offers a collection of seeds harvested from plants on the campus, such as ornamental fennel, echinacea and black-eyed Susans, that are geared toward attracting pollinators. These seeds are available for free on a no-return basis annually in the fall.
“The look in people’s eyes when we put all the seeds on the table,” says Noyes-Brownell with a smile. “They’re giddy over the variety. Last year we had one man grow a borage flower that he didn’t know existed. Now he’ll have it in his garden this year.”
Borage produces a tiny blue, edible blossom that goes well in salads and glasses of lemonade. At Blooms, there’s also the Mortgage Lifter tomato that can grow up to a hefty 2 pounds and is fabled to have been used by its creator to pay off his mortgage in the 1920s. The Margaret Best greasy short pole bean is named after a homesteading Appalachian maven who traded the seeds at family reunions and church meetings. And legend has it that the small and fragrant but flavorless Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon was carried by Victorian ladies as perfume.
In 2018, which was Blooms’ inaugural season, all but a few seeds were checked out by over 100 members, ranging from children and novice growers to master gardeners, says Noyes-Brownell. She adds that 96 percent of the library’s seeds have been donated by seed companies like Sow True Seed and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange as well as the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello in Virginia.
As Blooms enters its second season, Noyes-Brownell hopes to encourage more seed-saving among locals. Free monthly gardening workshops presented by the library and Extension Master Gardener Volunteers of Buncombe County will share basic seed-saving techniques along with other topics, including composting and planting native species.
“One of the big things we’re trying to work on is getting people comfortable saving seeds and turning them in. Especially the easy seeds like beans, peas, eggplants and tomatoes. We’re counting on people this year to learn a little more, donate seeds and help us build,” says Noyes-Brownell. “I foresee this being a very sustainable operation.”
The Black Mountain Blooms Seed Lending Library is open Monday-Saturday at the Black Mountain Public Library, 105 N. Dougherty St., Black Mountain. For more, visit avl.mx/5uk. For details on the Pollinator Seed Library at UNC Asheville, visit library.unca.edu/seeds.
WHAT: Seed Saving Techniques Workshop
WHEN: 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, June 8
WHERE: Educational Room, Black Mountain Public Library, 105 N. Dougherty St.