Sharing Seeds Without Stealing

A few readers have emailed lately asking if I think it’s okay to just take a few seeds from plants in people’s gardens, or if I think they should ask first. It’s a good question, and one every gardener grapples with, I imagine. I admit that I have gathered a few seeds here and there from other people’s gardens. I didn’t go up into their yards or anything. But if a plant I liked was in a boulevard garden, or poking out of a fence or over a wall, I’d take a few seeds if it seemed like there were a lot to go around. I didn’t think much about this, probably because I wouldn’t mind if people took seeds from my gardens, at least not the ones that are accessible from the sidewalk.

But then the issue came up on our Master Gardener listserv, and I got those emails I mentioned from readers, and I realized that a lot of people consider taking seeds from other people’s plants a horrible thing to do. “It’s stealing,” one gardener wrote on our listserv. And many others agreed. Of course I see their point. And even though we stealers only take a few seeds, what if everyone who came along did that? What if the plant was special, maybe an heirloom grown by the gardener’s grandma and each year’s seeds were a precious treasure to be shared with family members?

I’ve thought about all of these things and decided that I won’t ever take seeds without asking again. But this doesn’t change the fact that I would be happy to share seeds from my own gardens, and I’m fine with people taking them without asking as long as you don’t venture into the yard and frighten our scared-of-everything dog, Lily. This whole thing has got me thinking about ways to share. I could put up a sign on the boulevard next season saying “Please feel free to take seeds from the boulevard gardens!” We live on a corner lot, so there are a lot of plants to choose from out there.

But I’m not sure how to let people know they’re welcome to seeds from plants inside the fence, too. We just need to know you’re coming so we can put Lily in the house. If you live around here, and you’re reading this, just email or call and we’ll tell you to come on over. For passersby, though, I obviously need a better system. I’m wondering if there’s a good a way to join up with other gardeners in the area to start a Little Free Seed Bank, modeled after the Little Free Library boxes that are popping up all over the place. If you haven’t seen these, homeowners, businesses, anyone who wants to, really, can give money to the program and get their own birdhouse-like box to stock with books that people can take and read for free. Take a book, leave a book, that’s the idea, and from what I can tell, it’s working beautifully.



Maybe there’s a way to do something like this with seeds, too. I threw this idea out to readers of my Everyday Gardener column in our local paper, The Southwest Journal, and several people emailed to say they’d be interested in working with me on trying to get a seed sharing plan off the ground next year. If you’re a local reader and you’re interested, too, please email and let me know. If you’re not local, but you like the idea and would like to know what we dream up, just email and I’ll keep in touch.

And, if you have a minute, I would also love to know what you think about sharing seeds in general. Would you be happy to share seeds from your garden with others? Would you want people to ask before they took seeds? Do you think it’s stealing to take a few seeds from people’s gardens without asking?




  • Maggie Collins

    I live at 4421 Vincent Ave. S. and walk past your lovely gardens daily with Sam, the dog. I talked with you last fall about seeds, and you were so generous to say you would share. I had a horse back riding accident and wasn’t able to follow through. I love the idea of the little seed house, to share seeds. I’d be willing to help get that started. Let me know what I can do. My cell is 612-203-9118.

    December 18, 2012
    • Meleah

      Hi Maggie,
      I hope you’re doing much better after your accident. I put seeds aside for you in the fall so, yes, of course I have seeds for you. And I do plan to put up some kind of little seed sharing house of some kind, too. So I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going and how to participate with the other gardeners who have expressed interest. – m

      December 27, 2012
  • Maggie Collins

    I am starting seeds in my basement greenhouse this week. Seems like a good thing to do after digging out from the big snow we had yesterday. I know spring is coming soon and I will be ready with seedlings!
    FYI: I found recently that Costco has a bucket of non-hybrid seeds, enough to plant an acre in vegetables, for a very reasonable price. It’s listed on their web site in the “preppers” section (for people who are big into emergency preparedness.)

    March 5, 2013

Leave a comment


Email(will not be published)*


Your comment*

Submit Comment

© 2005-2012 Everyday Gardener