A new resource has sprouted up to help Lower Mainland gardeners make their yards more sustainable.

The Institute of Urban Ecology (IUE) at Douglas College has started a seed library stocked with a variety of plants.

The bulk of the library’s seeds came from the Sustainability, Outreach and Learning (SOL) Garden at Douglas College’s Coquitlam campus. The garden is used to grow native, non-invasive species that are also drought-resistant, says IUE coordinator Naomi Higo, as well as “wildlife, pollinator-friendly plants, things that can kind of help people re-wild their yard.”

The library currently has more than 20 species ranging from pollinator-friendly Douglas aster to sun-loving yarrow.

The idea of a seed library occurred to Higo before, but it wasn’t until she found herself with some extra time last summer — IUE wasn’t hosting its usual bevy of events and workshops — that she was able to get it off the ground.

Higo used the quieter summer and fall to harvest the seeds. The winter has been spent cleaning and sorting specimens as well as conducting viability tests to see what germinates.

Butterfly milkweed seeds. Image courtesy of Institute of Urban Ecology

The history of the garden isn’t fully understood, but Higo says the gardening practices today are organic. They don’t promote using pesticides or herbicides and try not to use chemical fertilizer.

“We try to as much as possible kind of let the garden grow naturally and organically,” she says.

It’s also an open-pollination garden. That means something like the library’s purple cone flower seeds might not actually produce a purple flower. It might be pink.

“It’s a bit of an experimental phase right now,” she says. “There is a small chance for cross-pollination or hybridization happening with some of the plants.”

The library is easy to use. No membership or payment is required. Those interested in seeds can simply contact IUE. They’ll be able to make requests for seeds from an online catalogue. Higo then packages them up with their sowing instructions as well as the habitat they like and sends the seeds via good old snail mail.

To reduce the chance of introducing invasive species, only those living between Vancouver and Hope are able to request seeds. So far, Higo has sent seeds to Maple Ridge, New Westminster, Vancouver, Port Coquitlam and Hope.

Requested seeds are mailed to gardeners. Photo courtesy Institute of Urban Ecology

At the end of the season, those who “borrowed” seeds are asked to collect new seeds from the plants they grew, label them and send them back to the library for next season’s gardeners. IUE is producing a series of YouTube videos for its channel to demonstrate how to collect seeds from all the varieties of plants.

This process will be especially important in this first year of operation for the seed library. The SOL Garden is undergoing planned renovations this year and while Higo is hopeful they’ll still get a full growing season in, that’s not guaranteed.

“The more volunteers we have growing these plants in their garden and returning to us, you know, the more seeds that we have to give to other people,” says Higo. “Our garden will be as big as it can. We can only fit so many plants in there, but if we can gather more seeds and have a continual supply of these native non-invasive plants to give to other people in the community, that’s really the goal.”

Higo hopes that as more people discover the library, it will continue to grow both its exposure in the community and its collection of seeds.