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Gathering seeds offers the perfect excuse to be outdoors on a crisp, sunny autumn day. I find the task both fun and easy since by now the seeds of many of my favorite ornamentals are neatly packaged in easy-to-gather dry pods and capsules.

Many of the seeds I gather are from annuals I’ve been growing in my garden every year for 25 years or more. They include plants seldom, if ever, offered as bedding plants.

In the beginning, I purchased seeds for many of these plants from The Fragrant Path (www.fragrantpathseeds.com). Ed Rasmussen, my friend who owns this unique seed company, jokes that I owe him an annual royalty because I enjoy these plants year after year without purchasing seeds a second time.

Whether you save your own seeds or not, if you’re willing to grow some plants from seeds you’ll not only save a lot of money but also have a much larger selection of plants.

Take amethyst bush violet (Browallia americana), for example. The 2-foot-tall plants are covered with many small flowers that are a deep violet-blue. I plant them in the partial shade of shrubs and tall perennials.

I love the relaxed habit of amethyst bush violet, but if you want something a little more refined, there’s a compact species that has the same intense blue flowers but grows only half as tall. Both produce seeds neatly wrapped in easy-to-gather capsules.

Manaos beauty (Centratherum intermedium) is another pretty plant you’ll never have the pleasure of growing unless you start from seed. It has large, button-like flowers of lavender-blue. A bushy perennial in its native Brazil, it produces enough ripe seeds to keep it going as an annual in the Midwest.

The large pods of purple hyacinth bean vine have faded from their eye-catching purple to brown, signaling that they’re ready to gather. Many of the spiny seed capsules of castor bean are also ripe for (carefully) collecting. Like many other annuals, both beans do a reliable job of reseeding themselves if left all winter in the garden, but you can speed up their growth by giving the seeds an early start indoors next spring.

When I’m gathering seeds, I also head to the vegetable garden. One not to miss is a dependable and great-tasting German radish, sent to me by a reader years ago. I always make sure I refrain from harvesting a few radishes so the remaining plants will have time to produce a bounty of seed pods.

Whether you’re saving seeds you gather from your garden or some leftover packets from this season’s planting, the secret is the same: Keep the seeds cool and dry. Store them in an airtight container, along with a tissue packet filled with silica gel or powder from a freshly-opened package of dry milk.

Jan Riggenbach writes her syndicated gardening column from her home near Glenwood, Iowa. See www.midwestgardening.com for more information. 

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