PLANNING the garden for the year ahead is always fun. Seed suppliers and garden centres are brimming with our old favourites and exciting new possibilities, so we’ll have lots of choices to make.

But shop early if you’re set on a particular variety. Brexit is predictably causing delays and shortages. Phytosanitary regulations for the rest of the world are now imposed on seeds and plants from the EU. Products that were harmonised with UK standards till December 2020 may no longer be acceptable.

So petunias from the Netherlands now undergo 59 tests and this nonsense has added 8-13% to costs this year. The Horticultural Trades Association [HTA] estimates additional financial burdens amount to £30m – £50m this year.

As a result of Brexit, seed and plants will be more expensive. But recent mail order mergers and takeovers will let them drive harder bargains with their poor suppliers and keep prices down. The global conglomerate, BVG, now owns Thompson & Morgan, Dobies, Suttons and the Organic Catalogue among others and it sources our seed from across the world: China, South America, Africa and India. Even smaller companies like Mr Fothergills and Kings do this rather than in Suffolk and Essex as previously.

I asked the HTA if they could recommend any firm that specialised or offered a significant amount of UK-grown seed, but they were unable to do so. The cost of land for production, a more favourable climate and longer growing season made overseas production more attractive. I’m sure cheap labour is another compelling reason.

This is worrying. Over time, stock plants adapt to their new environment so seeds from a plant acclimatised to India may not enjoy life in Inverness.

This is all a bit negative but I do believe we should know what we’re buying and decide what to do about it.

If we’re very concerned, we could try to find small firms like Higgledy Garden [] who grow some of their own seed, import from Europe and aim to produce 75% of their own seed by 2023, or join organisations like Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. But there is a membership fee and you get a small amount of a limited range of varieties to let you then save your own seed.

Seed varieties are either open-pollinated or F1 hybrids. F1s provide a consistently reliable crop of virtually identical plants maturing at much the same time. Harvesting is more staggered with open-pollinated ones. F1 seeds are developed by cross breeding different varieties. Unlike open-pollinated ones, they are only stable for one generation, are much more expensive and each pack contains a tiny pinch of seeds.

Although open-pollinated varieties like parsnips are only viable for a year, many others like peas and brassicas are long-lasting. Although firms must include seed packing date, they don’t have to give a ‘use by’ one, though many do. So if you’re not sure about seed viability in older packets, check germination rates by first sowing some in a seed tray.

I’m all for using heritage seeds but here, too, Brexit intervenes. It now costs between 2000 and 2500 euros to test one tomato variety, so it’s too expensive for EU firms to maintain varieties simply for the UK amateur market.

And individual open-pollinated ones each need lots of stock plants to ensure stability. I doubt this always happens. I prefer growing dwarf broad beans that don’t need staking but ‘Robin Hood’ is the only one now available and it’s becoming very unstable. Germination rates are around 60-70% and plants from the same packet range from 20cm to 50cm in height. But, if possible, I’ll always choose open pollinated seeds.

Plant of the week

Hamamelis mollis ‘Jermyns Gold’ is an early flowering witch hazel bearing clusters of large, broad-petalled, sweet-scented, golden-yellow flowers. Warmed by even weak winter sun the scent is captivating.