This is an exciting time for gardeners as we pore over seed catalogues and plan what to grow. But our choice is narrower than we sometimes think. Perhaps it’s not too surprising that gardening is a victim of the relentless globalisation of goods and services.

Four groups control two-thirds of the world’s seed and pesticide rights. BASF, Bayer/Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta and Conteva Agricultur own and claim royalties on so many of our seeds.

This matters mainly to farmers across the world and, despite our numbers here, gardeners are tiny minnows to these producers.

Ownership of individual varieties also means farmers must pay royalties on seed they save for their own use, never mind if they give or sell to other farmers.

These companies have a stranglehold on seed use.

READ MORE: Scottish gardener: How to make a wormery

Many of the seeds we use are grown in Kenya and China by grossly underpaid workers.

And the length of daylight in these places may mean seed from the stock plants is no longer adapted for growing conditions in Scotland.

As an interesting footnote, in 2022 the UK passed the Genetic Technology [Precision breeding] Bill, which allows for gene editing in plant research.

I commend this important development in scientific research, despite the misgivings of many about GM generally. The legislation only applies in England and so far the Scottish Government has not authorised its implementation.

While we can’t know how many of these globally produced seeds are sold in this country or the UK, several of our largest seed companies, Thompson & Morgan, Suttons, and The Organic Catalogue, are owned by one group, Brandon Garden Products.

So the little foil packets inside one distributor’s pack will be identical to another’s within the holding group. Although gardeners can’t control the provenance of seeds we buy, we can decide whether to use open-pollinated or F1 ones.

The Herald: Sowing seeds.

Open pollinated seeds, varieties developed by breeders that are pollinated naturally, are much cheaper than F1s and you get much more seed for your money. Fresh open pollinated seed generally germinates well.

And, as an extra bonus for gardeners, these plants mature at slightly different rates, giving us a longer harvesting period.

On the other hand, F1s produce virtually identical, uniform plants that are programmed to harvest at the same time. Producing F1s is admittedly much more expensive, but it does generate much higher profits.

When developing an F1 variety, breeders establish two lines of plants that reliably provide uniform offspring.

Each of these parent plants is called an “inbred line”; the two lines are crossed and the progeny, the first filial generation, produces the desired characteristics. Interestingly, the inbred lines show the natural result of inbreeding, meaning they are weak specimens, but the first crossing creates surprising strength and vigour but only for that one generation.

F2s and subsequent generations would not be identical or as vigorous as the F1 parent, but have any mix of earlier characteristics. So that is why you can’t save seed from F1 plants.

The choice of open pollinated varieties is narrowing, but I try, and do find small firms like The Real Seed Company are invaluable.

Plant of the week:

Asplenium ‘Parvati’ is often known as the mother fern from its habit of producing “baby” plantlets from the edges of its fronds. These are dark green and quite stiff and waxy looking. This fern is robust and will thrive in a normal room, not just a steamy bathroom. though it will need misting when the central heating is on.