EVEN the most experienced gardener will be thrown a curved ball by nature every now and again.
For many years, as readers will know, I have saved two types of my father’s runner bean seed and planted them together with Canadian black runner beans and some more modern white runners given to me as a present by a dear friend.
Each year, all four are planted, sharing the wigwams at Sandlands Allotments and I had never, ever, given a thought to cross pollination — until this summer, that is.
Last year was not a good one for the white bean and I had very few of those seeds, so I was aware of the need to be especially protective of the plants so I put them in a particular spot to keep an eye on them.
I also gave some of the seed from my red-flowering varieties to Bill Moore, who is trialling both the ancient and modern beans to compare them at the Care in the Garden project off Lushington Hill.
Some spare plants also went to my friend, James, who also has a Sandlands plot, and responded with the gift of seeds of an Italian samphire-like plant chefs are raving about.
Surprisingly, some of the bean seed which appeared on the surface to be just like their brother red beans, either striped, spotty or black — and certainly not white — produced white flowers.
Pulses — beans and peas — are the easiest seeds to save but runners and peas readily cross-pollinate and the genetic change that has probably been going on in all four of my varieties over the years was only apparent to me through the different colour flower.
I am glad I am not the only gardener to be caught out, though.
This year, seed and plant company Dobies supplied me with what purported to be that beautiful ornamental pea Blauwschokker, part of the Rob Smith Heritage range.
The beautiful purple flowers are as good as sweet peas — and there was not a trace of a traditional white flower in the row.
But, while most of the pods were that wonderful deep purple colour, those from one plant were the traditional green, showing even the biggest commercial concern can be caught out — by a humble bee.
Broad beans and dwarf varieties, such as the Brighstone bean, are less prone to promiscuity, but if you want runners and peas to remain true to type they should be grown away from other varieties, which, of course, for most people is impossible.
Keeping seed is a really satisfying and free method of gardening and it is lovely to be able to pass on something a little different to other enthusiasts too. This year, in a small way, I am helping queen bee of Ryde Arts Festival, Carol Jaye, to organise Seedy Sunday.
She has always got a project or three on the go and next year is determined to get Seedy Sunday off the ground.
It didn’t quite happen this year but next year it will take place on a date in February at Aspire, which has developed not just as a real community resource for Ryde at Holy Trinity Church but as something of a gardening hub too.
Seedy Sunday started in Brighton and that remains the biggest event but has since grown in many other places.
It is, literally, what it says on the packet.
It is all about the community coming together to swap seeds and have a bit of a chat over a cuppa or one of the delicious soups that are prepared by Aspire volunteers from ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste.
If saving your own seed, always select the best specimens of fruit or pod to take them from.
When saving pulses, allow the pods to grow unchecked until they are dry and crackly. Allow the seeds to really dry out before popping them into an airtight takeaway container.
In future columns I hope to give tips on saving other seeds for what promises to be a really nice community event.