Collecting prickly seeds

Posted: Monday 9 September 2013
by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have been collecting seeds of Eryngium giganteum - this is easier said than done, as the seeds are needle sharp

Eryngium giganteum seeds

These are the seeds of Eryngium giganteum. Those of you who grow eryngiums will know them as very statuesque and beautiful plants that can be either perennial or biennial. This one is biennial, which means that it spends the first year growing leaves, the second year flowering like billy-ho, and then it dies off – rather elegantly.

My problem is that I have far too much of it and it has, over the past few years, begun to crowd out other plants. It just goes to prove that even the most beautiful plants can be a right pain sometimes. So I have decided to thin it out dramatically by pulling up a lot of the plants before they can drop seeds and set in motion another generation. At the same time, I have been collecting the seeds to give away.

This is much easier said than done. The seeds are unbelievably prickly and are very good at working their way inside my gloves, which is very uncomfortable. I have resorted to putting gaffer tape around the wrists of my gloves to keep out the needle-sharp seeds and reduce my pain level.

But it gives me even more admiration for Ellen Willmott, who was a great gardener in the early 20th century. She inherited Warley Place in Essex from her father in 1892 and spent the rest of her life developing the gardens. She grew more than 100,000 different species of plants – with the help of 104 gardeners, with whom she was extremely strict. Apparently she sacked gardeners if she found a single weed in a border! Miss Willmott spent thousands of pounds on the garden (as well as others she bought in France and Italy) and was awarded a Victoria Medal of Honour by the RHS (one of only two women to receive it on its institution in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – the other being Gertrude Jekyll). In later life, she ran out of money and had to sell virtually everything. She also became quite odd and carried a revolver in her handbag.

Anyway, I mention her because this eryngium is often called Miss Willmott’s ghost, because of her habit of scattering its seeds around whenever she visited friends’ gardens, where the flowers would spring up two years later. My point is that, as these seeds are so spiky, she must have had very tough fingers!

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