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December 11, 2023

Stocking the HEPL Seed Library

By Julia Utter

2023 is the year of stories at Hamilton East Public Library. Every month on our blog, we’re featuring a guest writer from our community to share in their own words what the library means to them. We hope these stories will demonstrate that there’s something for everyone at the library, and you belong here. 

Our final December library story is about the impact of the HEPL Seed Library on our local community and creating healthy landscapes right in our own backyards.

“In terms of biological activity, a lawn is the least productive of our plantings, yet it is the default landscaping practice in most spaces.” —Doug Tallamy, prominent ecologist and native plant advocate.

HEPL’s Seed Library

I am a Hamilton County Master Gardener and pretty much a life-long resident of Noblesville. The Hamilton East Public Library reached out to Master Gardeners for help in 2019 for assistance in starting a Seed Library! What an idea! I jumped at the opportunity and quickly became addicted to saving and planting seeds, as well as helping the library get this project off the ground. In the first year of this library project, they ran out of seeds in a few months because it was so popular! In 2023, now in its 5th year, the Seed Library distributed over 68,000 packets of seeds through the Noblesville and Fishers Libraries! Amazing, isn’t it?

I love to see if I can get the plants started first of all, since I don’t think of myself as having a ‘green thumb.’ I prepare seed trays and provide either natural light from a sunny window, or I have now invested in lights and heat pads to get seeds started. I love to see the sprouts pop up and grow into a plant that I now recognize and want to transplant into my garden or in a Master Gardener bed at the 4-H grounds or to donate to the Master Gardener Plant Sale each May.

Julia Utter talking with Noblesville library staff about the first day of opening the Seed Library

Planting native plants, growing a garden, and starting a flower bed are all great ways to help the environment. Doing these things helps eliminate inefficient grassy areas that do not really benefit the climate but instead support the web of life. This is one small step I can take to make a difference in our environment right in my own backyard.

HEPL has a wonderful Seed Library that you can “borrow” seeds from to plant at home. They offer multiple kinds of seeds in the areas of natives, vegetables, flowers, and herbs for you to try out. One of the aspects I love about the Seed Library is the diversity of seeds offered. It is not always the best known tomato or zucchini variety your grandma planted, but the Seed Library encourages you to explore different varieties or cultivars. It is not like going into a garden shop and picking out Blue Lake green beans, a traditional favorite of gardeners. Instead, the library encourages you to explore different seeds and plants to grow.One of the seeds I discovered, which I had never tasted before, has now become a favorite. As I restocked the drawers for patrons to borrow more seeds, I discovered and tried Delicata squash. I invite you to try it as well!

Patrons checking out the Seed Library at Fishers Library.

When restocking seeds, I often encounter a mother with her children exploring the drawers and trying to decide on some seeds to try in their family garden. What a great, great way to educate children about the rhythm or web of life- from seed to table. Many local schools have also taken advantage of the Seed Library to teach these principles in the classroom. Doug Tallamy writes in Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard that “Gardening is like cooking. It is tempting to cook only with the goal of achieving great taste, with no thought of healthy eating, but that often results in tasty concoctions so full of fat, sugar, and salt that they are deadly in the long run. Similarly, it is tempting to garden only for beauty, without regard to the many ecological roles our landscapes must perform. All too often, such narrow gardening goals result in a landscape so low in ecological function that it drains the vitality from the surrounding ecosystem.”

Starting from January and going through March when the Seed Library opens, Master Gardeners come to the Fishers Library weekly, and we pack seeds in little envelopes for patrons to “borrow.” Since the library packages and labels so many packets, it is quite a big task to get 60,000+ seeds ready for the Seed Library to open in March. Master Gardeners will often take home seeds to pack during the winter months when we cannot be in our own gardens. I do this! With friends, we will have either coffee and scones while 4-5 of us pack seeds and talk or have an evening pizza party to pack seeds. It has become a fun way to get together and chat and also be helpful to our community library. What started out as a fun winter gathering at the library to pack seeds for the Seed Library has become much more for me. It has become a way to not only give back to the library as a volunteer but also expand my knowledge of the importance of planting seeds and diversifying our gardens. No matter what size your yard is, the plants you choose for your landscape matter. Nature’s best hope for change is right in our own backyard. Did you notice that the landscaping in the front of the Noblesville and Fishers Library is primarily grasses and native plants? Diversity is an important contribution to our environment. Each of us can make those changes one yard at a time.

The Hamilton East Public Library at the Central Indiana Seed Swap

The Hamilton East Public Library offers each community member a way to “borrow” seeds and begin to learn about plants, diversity, ecology, and the fun of exploring how you can turn your green space into a “homegrown park” by creating healthy landscapes. Look for programs at both libraries in their Events Calendar on different gardening topics to increase your knowledge.

A fun, free event coming up will be the Central Indiana Seed Swap at the 4-H Fairgrounds on January 27 from 9-2 pm. The swap features seed vendors, often with many heirloom varieties available for purchase, as well as speakers on various garden topics. There are also vendors providing garden-related products to purchase as well. There are lots of free seeds given away at this family friendly event. Check it out!


If interested in further information, reference, or research, a few of my favorite sources would be the following books:

About Julia Utter:

Julia has retired after 34 years as a Speech-Language Pathologist. Besides being very active in the Hamilton County Master Gardener Association, she is also active as a volunteer at the Hamilton County Humane Society and as a Guardian Ad Litem. She has one daughter that lives in Louisville, KY and two pups named Jack and JoeB that keep her busy.

Read previous library stories: