Before You Buy Another Plant, Check Your Local Library

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Do you dream of fragrant green herbs sprouting on your kitchen windowsill? Cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine just outside your door? If you’ve got a least a little patch of sun on a porch or balcony, you can grow a container garden. But before you head out to buy seeds, you might want to check with your local library to see if you can “check out” a pack or two.

Yep, libraries aren’t just for books and movies anymore. Seed libraries, typically sustained by donations from local businesses and patrons, are popping up at libraries all over the country.

I love taking advantage of the seed catalogue at my local small-town library because, living in an apartment, I typically only need enough seeds for a pot each of tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a container of spinach or cucumbers. A small package of tomato seeds might not look like much—those seeds are so tiny!—but on average they have around 25 seeds, and that’s still more than five times the number of seeds I really need.

I had heard of seed swaps before, where garden afficiantodos gather to trade unwanted flower and vegetable seeds, but you have to be tuned into those kinds of things and make a special effort to get to the event. The library, on the other hand, is easily accessible almost every day of the week. The only thing you need is a library card.

When I “borrow” seeds at the library, I take just as many seeds as I need and put them in a little envelope, leaving the rest for other patrons. Aside from being free, the advantage of this is that I get to try out a couple different heirloom varieties without spending a bunch of money on seeds I won’t get to plant.

If I do purchase some seeds because I’m looking for something specific, I’ll donate the extras to the seed exchange rather than leaving them stuffed in the back of a drawer where I may or may not remember them next season when they may or may not still be viable.

These types of seed exchange programs are becoming increasingly common, but if your library doesn’t have one suggest it! It’s easy to manage on their end and it’s a great resource for the community. Oh, and while you’re at the library, maybe check out some gardening books, too!