Documents: Gardening From: Gardening From New Zealand:

How Dowdeswell Produces Your Seed
by Terry Dowdeswell
by Terry Dowdeswell


Terry Dowdeswell is the owner of Dowdeswell's Delphiniums in Wanganui New Zealand.

Be sure to visit his site at

February 1, 2009

Today I’m going to get away from the travel/holiday in NZ aspect and tell you a little about how we produce our seed. The last few weeks have seen us very busy cleaning delphinium seed and sending orders out to our customers – sometimes an interesting experience.

After a cross is made there is a four to six week wait until the seeds ripen. We leave seed on the plant inside the plastic house until the pods are at least yellow (we may sometimes leave them until the pods dry completely but there can be a high risk of loss to do that) and the seed is black. The next step is to individually pick the pods from the flower spikes, collect them in carefully marked paper bags and hang them the dry on string lines in the packing shed. This takes a further couple of weeks or so according to the weather. I’ve tried all sorts of methods to speed the picking process but quicker methods all leave more debris that has to be cleaned out later. Once dry the seed is cleaned of husks (up at the packing shed) and then delivered to the cleaning department (Janice and any helpers we have at the time) for sieving and tweezer work. This is tedious stuff and hard on the eyes and neck if you aren’t careful to take plenty of breaks (walks up to the nursery to see Terry are a good idea). It is however very necessary as any impurities, foreign matter etc will mean we are unable to meet tight phytosanitary requirements for export. Clean dry seed is then counted into packets, labelled and stored in the fridge. You should see our fridge!

All batches of seed are germination tested. This is very necessary, not only to ensure that our customers receive good seed, but also to keep track of variety traits so that improvements can be made. Delphinium seed does not remain viable for long, keeping just a year or two in the fridge, sometimes more, according to variety. One of the aims of our breeding programme is to select varieties that have better keeping qualities. A post-graduate student from Massey University is assisting us in this respect over the next couple of years and we are hopeful of identifying better drying and storage methods also.

Our delphiniums are coming up for their second flowering this season and now is the time when we make most of the experimental crosses. Being a small, family concern we are able to be very flexible in our approach to breeding and it occurs to me that gardeners may, indeed will have many ideas for traits they would like emphasized - anything - flower shape, size, dwarf, tall, stripes, bee colours, resistance to being trampled by elephants and eaten by elks etc. so how about dropping a line to with any ideas or requests. Breeding is a long job. The first step however is to identify where you want to go, daring to think of the impossible (maybe). I already have a suggestion that we breed slug and snail resistant delphiniums!

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row