Novice gardener Anna Moore finds there's a lot to learn and enjoy at Brighton and Hove's Seedy Sunday.
Thanks to some generous friends, I have a part-share in an allotment this year. I love food and the thought of a steady supply of homegrown, organic veg is exciting but also a bit daunting. My previous growing experience has mostly been confined to trying to keep supermarket basil-in-a-pot alive for the summer.
Being new to it all, I didn't realise that it is illegal to buy seeds unless they have been officially registered, a process which is too expensive for all but the larger commercial growers. Swapping, however, is fine. On Seedy Sunday, local people come together to exchange seeds from dozens of varieties of fruit and veg. It's a great way to save money, but more importantly many of the heritage varieties, which are often adapted to local conditions, are no longer available to buy. By swapping and then sowing local seeds, you also help to protect our biodiversity.
The first Seedy Sunday in the UK was set up nine years ago by two friends from the Brighton and Hove gardening group . They had the idea after accidentally finding themselves at a seed swap whilst on holiday in Canada. Today, the event attracts more than 2,000 visitors.
When I turned up at the town hall there was a real buzz, as well as, I noticed, plenty of wellies and soil-grubby hands. After paying a small entrance fee and being stamped 'Outlaw' - a cheeky reminder of the legal loophole - I headed to the nearest table. In front of me were hundreds of small, brown packets scattered across the surface, each with a hand-written label. Either side of me people were busy rummaging, getting out bulging biscuit tins full of their own seeds, and swapping with gusto.
If you don't have anything to swap (as I didn't), you can pay a 'donation' of 50p per packet. So far, so simple, except what to choose? What's the difference between the (bizarrely monikered) Fat Lazy Blonde and Drunken Woman lettuces? Will my tomatoes flourish, even if I can't get to the allotment every day (short answer: possibly but they'll do better in a sheltered garden)? When I got to the seed potato stall, I was even more aware of how removed I am from the food I eat. I'd reached my mid-thirties with no idea that you can plant seed potatoes that germinate into new ones...
Luckily, there were plenty of people around to give advice, as well as talks, demonstrations and displays. For a novice food grower, an event like this is a great way to get involved. Talking to people who know what they're doing is definitely more fun than reading a book (though I'll be getting one of those as well). I eventually left with a bag full of brown packets, determined that I'd be back next year - hopefully a bit wiser and with my own seeds to swap.
Anna Moore is a sustainability writer and director of editorial agency Lark Media. Have you been to any seed swaps recently? We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.