Kathy Tinius is growing some unusual sunflowers in her yard this summer, and has good reason to believe the varieties will thrive.
Another gardener in her area grew the flowers successfully, and gave Tinius the seeds during a seed swap that drew people from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Tinius, of Ashton, Md., has dabbled with growing from seed for years, and likes swaps because attendees exchange information as well as seeds.
"I try and get some tips," the 54-year-old said. "You can get seeds in hand-written packages. You can get different varieties. I really like that."
Seed swaps, or exchanges where gardeners bring their extras to share, give people access to plants and varieties not typically found in stores. Although the Internet can connect gardeners with seeds from around the world, seed swaps put them in touch with local growers. They are often organized by gardening clubs, neighborhood associations or enthusiasts of the ancient practice of collecting seeds from plants.
Check gardening newsletters, Craigslist or www.foodnotlawns.net for local swaps. Organizations or Web sites dedicated to living green or growing heirloom plants also are good sources for seeds.
Growing from seed has gained momentum recently as gardeners seek out unusual or particular varieties of flowers and vegetables, said Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener Magazine in Silver Spring, Md. Gardeners are looking for "very specific varieties or experiences - not what you get from big box stores," she said.
Increased interest in organic and locally grown food also is drawing people to seeds, Jentz said. Others see seed saving as a way to save money while gardening.
Erik Knutzen, who grows much of his own food, recently picked up some pepper and eggplant seeds at an organized seed swap. The Los Angeles resident also swaps casually with fellow gardeners and neighbors.
"You can access things that you can't buy," said Knutzen, coauthor of "The Urban Homestead" (Process Media, 2008). "You can grow things you can't get in the supermarket."
Swaps are good places to find seeds from thriving plants that grew near your home; gardeners typically save seeds from their healthiest, most productive plants, said Knutzen.
"You're selecting varieties that are well adapted to a particular place," he said. "It's like Darwin. There's a higher probability it will be successful."
"Just throw a party and invite people who do gardening," he said. "It will be fine."
Paige Hill did just that when she realized she had more basil seeds than she could ever use. She rightly figured many of her gardening friends had a "wealth of knowledge and a wealth of seeds" to share. She also invited friends who had never saved seeds to the swap.
"Everybody got so excited," said Hill, of Austin, Texas. "It was so fun."
Swapping seeds also creates a bond between gardeners, she said. When the seeds become plants they serve as reminders of friendships and good times.
"I always know which plants came from somebody else," she said. And she enjoys seeing plants grown from her seeds flourishing in a neighbor's yard. "There's a connection to these plants."