The Merchants of Seed

With a lot of down time in the garden recently, the song lyrics” November November its preparation its creation” came to mind while I put my “Must Get Garden List” together. Alliums bulbs for a bed that needs to be refreshed with there magnificent purple Mop Head flowers in May, a good spread of Native Bluebells bulbs to combat the invasion of Spanglish Bluebells , a Golden Gauge Fruit Tree or Two and a prolific fruiting Autumn Flowering Raspberry are currently toping the list.

So where does one seek out this eclectic collection , my first instinct when thinking Bulbs or Seeds, is a Seed Merchant, a traditional supplier of all things horticultural who with there expertise will give me outstanding options. My experience of purchasing bulbs or seeds, that are sold in general garden outlets, has generally been patchy to say the least. With its not what says in the pack” being my gripe, but when some 6 months later when this comes to light, the receipt is well gone. Seed Merchants wont make that mistake as they stake there reputation on supplying on producing the correct and desired Bulb, Seed etc.

It seems not everyone one would think of resorting to a “Seed Merchant”.  During a phone in on TV programme a couple of years ago I recommended a Seed Merchant to the caller for there pursuit of a specific flowering bulb. Surprisingly they had not heard of such an outlet and even worse neither had the presenter.

Seed Merchants are admittedly thin on the ground in Ireland seeking one out in France, Italy, Portugal or Spain where they thrive is not a difficult task. To my horror I was informed that there is only one Seed Merchant still standing in Ireland namely Mr Middleton trading in Dublin. Names like Mackey’s, Hackett’s and Drummonds seem to have quietly evaporated they were, like an old aunt, there presence made one feel comfortable.

In the early 20th century there were approximately 13 Seed Merchants in Dublin City Centre the sight where Hodges n Figgis occupy on Dawson St was one such sight.

But now one stands alone namely “Mr Middleton” and so I headed of last week with my “Must Get List” to see Mr Middleton who has practised the Art of being a seed merchant on Mary Street in Dublin City Centre for over 25 years and warehouse in Glasnevin. I was invited to investigate what a Seed Merchant means in the 21st Century in Ireland

The first thing to come to light was a surprise for me. A considerable amount of gardeners around Ireland have resorted to Mail Order to acquire there specific gardening wants.
Mr Middleton one would imagine is a quite retiring kind of man, is anything but, with an amazing 50,000 mail order clients, many who cannot complete there “Must Get Garden List” due to apparent the lack of Seed Merchants around the country .This was the first starling fact presented to me as Thomas Querney the owner of Mr Middleton took me on what was a joyous tour of there Glasnevin warehouse bustling with happy staff smiling all greeting me as I toured the modern face of a Seed Merchant.

Thomas defines gardening at this moment in Ireland as the “Highest participating hobby in Ireland after Cooking” something he rightly says is not recognised by the media.

He started growing plants in his teenage years in his parent’s back garden and by 1973 had started trading and selling at plant markets. In 1977 he started his mail service offering 13 varieties of vegetable seeds and 6 varieties of flowers by 1979 things were moving fast and he opened his first plant nursery in Porterstown. This all laid the foundation to the birth of Mr Middleton in 1986 and who now trades very happily on Mary St in Dublin city centre defining what a seed merchant is all about stocking in season over 3,000 varieties of seeds and 2,000 varieties of bulbs.

To keep them to the forefront of gardening Thomas constantly looks to stock new and exiting plants the type that would appear on my “Must Get List”. For example they recently they launched a compact dwarf raspberry variety growing to just 1m (39”) high suitable for large patio containers and smaller gardens.
Thomas explained ” Its called ‘Ruby Beauty’ and has superb yields of deliciously sweet Raspberries, it is happily thorn less and its short in size, so it makes them easy to harvest and can be netted with ease to protect the crops from any hungry birds”

An even more exiting development is the availability of two yummy Potato varieties “Sarpo Mira” and “Sarpo Axona” which are booth amazingly Blight Resistant. This is the potato Irish gardeners have waited for since the famine says Thomas “the first truly blight resistant varieties of potatoes”. Apparently the
Savari family who are based in Hungary have been breeding blight and virus resistant varieties of potatoes such as  Sarpo Mira and Axona who have unprecedented levels of blight resistance thus avoiding the necessity of chemical sprays and  Sarpo is the first variety to score 9 out of 10 from independent trials held in Wales.

Sarpo Mira is described by Thomas as an early main-crop organic potato with “High yields of really tasty floury potatoes that can manage a range of soil types and does not appear to be afflicted by slug damage” while Sarpo Axona a Maincrop variety is also Organic and is very floury variety “so nice that there is no need to add butter or milk when mashing I am recommend Axona to my clients as first choice to grow organically”

Mr Middleton’s really defines the difference a Seed Merchant makes when they source bulbs they are literally sourced from all around the world. Daffodils and a proportion of there 250,000 Native Bluebells they stock are sourced from Ireland. The Autumn Crocus from the Loire Valley in France .The  Snowdrops intriguingly are grown in a German woodland while the Tulips come direct from the breeders in Holland and Amaryllis from Peru while fruit and vegetable seed numbers over 3, 000 varieties. This really underlines why visiting or sourcing from a Seed Merchant is a very fruitful exercise.

Natural pest control is something that was not on my list but is always close to my heart.  I am planning to undertake a school project next year that would involve importing Ladybirds in to the school garden and this is a service that Mr Middleton provides and involves quite an interesting process to get them in the post to you house The very attractive ladybird can amazingly eat 10,000 greenfly and similar in its lifetime. If you can establish them in your garden they will breed and provide you with natural pest control for years to come.

To get to your garden the Ladybirds undertake a substantial journey. They pack there bags and are dispatched from France, by specialist breeders every Wednesday, by air courier to Mr Middleton. Who in turn posts them on Thursday to arrive Friday.  25 adult Ladybirds arrive costing the bargain price of €29.95.  They travel in a small vial, similar to the ones pharmacists use, and munch on popcorn to feed them and keep them feeling “First Class” during the journey. Then the joyous moment arrives when the customer releases the ladybirds on the Friday on to there garden leaves where they dedicate there life to munch away on Greenflies, Blackflies and Whiteflies and if all goes well reproduce.
My desire to get a spectacular show of Alliums was also solved by Thomas with the variety selected Allium Globemaster off set by the smaller Allium Purple Sensation plus he recommended a Green Gage variety “Cambridge” and happily still had some native Bluebells and tantalisingly a golden fruiting Autumn Raspberry called “Allgold” so all in all I am sorted at least until the….. New Year list is unveiled..

Top Tips
..1…Don’t let leaves accumulate around alpines this can cause rotting and they will die if left damp for long. .
..2 …Check that houseplants are getting enough light – they are best moved to a sunny windowsill but not beside a radiator.
..3… Avoid walking on the grass on frosty mornings it can damage and blacken the grass.
..4… Check that all tree ties are secure.

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