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SocietyOctober 7, 2023

Their house, my garden: Seeds are revolutionary, but seedlings will do


A garden is only as yum as its plants. This week on Their house, my garden, advice on what to grow and how to grow it.

Growing your own food is a big old finger at the supermarket superprofits. Raising vegetable plants from seeds is the biggest finger possible. We’d order our summer seeds in July, from small New Zealand businesses who preserve heritage varieties. When the little packets arrived, we would marvel at the cute paper packaging and the size of the seeds which one day would feed us. We might even post a photo of some rare beans on our palm on Instagram and our snobby “friends” who call themselves “growers” and wear linen would comment to say they have been growing these for four seasons and are saving their own seeds.

Unfortunately I have found myself in October with an empty garden bed, my seedling punnets over-run by weeds around the side of the house, and my seed collection very, very expired. We have to do what the linen-wearers consider cheating: visit the local hardware store or plant shop to buy seeds and – gasp! – pre-grown seedlings. 

Not a good look for a month into spring.

Spending at Bunnings instead of Countdown does change the upturned finger from the middle one to the pinky, albeit one still saying, “I’m a little bit too good for your systems of industrialised food production.” Though my virtuousness is taking a hit, by foregoing the seedling process I’m saving months of looking at potting mix wondering if it’s too damp or too dry; the dreaded pricking, where one must kill most of the sprouting babies and leave only the tallest; and having to move seedlings from tiny pots to small pots to medium pots, a process I still don’t believe in. It’s a relief. 

That being said, the hardware store trades on dreams you can’t realise. Sometimes it’s DIY renovations that actually look good, and other times it’s plants that will take all your love and care without providing any food in return, much like a cat. Let this be your guide to avoiding the shit seedlings and seeds.

We will not be buying seed-raising mix. I suspect it is the eyecream of dirt: a smaller and more expensive packet of the same thing. Any seeds mentioned below are good to direct sow, meaning just put them in your bed or pot.


You’d be forgiven for spending an hour amongst the Mitre 10 tomato seedlings. There’s early girl, campari, patio prize, roma low, “sweet 100”, beefsteak, sunshine, rambling garden delight, Russian red, dynamo, golden low acid, and money maker. Evocative names, but they don’t do much to describe the actual tomatoes. It’s very confusing if you are used to the supermarket produce section where all that’s on offer are tomatoes, the same tomatoes on a vine, and cherry tomatoes. 

I’m here to tell you all you really need is money maker. You will be rich (in tomatoes). They grow on the vine in groups of six that I like to call six-packs because I know about beer. Money maker tomatoes are mid-sized, so if you’re looking to impress by growing big, it’s beefsteak you’re after; but I find these go mushy easily and have a weak taste.

If there’s a lot of naughty birds in your garden, outsmart them with sunshine tomatoes. Birds have not learned about yellow tomatoes yet so they don’t know when they’re ripe.


Lots of gardeners grow weird greens you’ve never heard of before and call it biodiversity. I think that is cool, but for me, spinach does the trick. One tray of perpetual spinach seedlings should keep you going, in pots or in a bed. Growing your own greens to save money has been endorsed by Nadia Lim, who pointed out that “one bag of greens today is costing about $6, anywhere between five to seven dollars, and a little punnet thing of herbs is about four bucks.” You do the maths.

Infinite vs bagged. Google’s sponsored results for “spinach”

There is also kōkihi / New Zealand spinach, which is not spinach but can be eaten like it is. It grows like a vine and is going to spread its tendrils everywhere and take up a lot of space. It’s a little slimy, and I’ve noticed people feel patriotic by growing it, which may be your thing. You can buy the large alien-looking seeds from most plant shops and sow them directly. I wouldn’t put them near other plants unless you hate them, because kōkihi will likely smother them.

Rocket grows so well it’s basically a weed. All you need to do is buy a packet of seeds and sprinkle a pinch around your other plants in the bed. Don’t put too many or it will take over. 

Another zingy green is mustard. Mustard seeds from the spice section at the supermarket are actual seeds and will grow. You’re not going to let these get big, so scatter a bunch kinda close together. In a few weeks, when they’re about 5-10 centimetres tall, snip them all a couple of cm from the ground and make a spanakopita. They should grow back and then you can make another spanakopita. After the second harvest, they will be wiry and yuck. You could pull them out or just leave them there to die.

Silverbeet is a well-behaved plant that just grows.


Beans are powerful. Buy a seed packet, open it up and it’s beans! I prefer the climbing varieties (vines) over the dwarf (bush) because then you get to make support structures for them to grow on (more on this next week).

The rough guide for sowing seeds is they should be as deep as they are tall. Sow beans about 15 centimetres apart. 


Zucchini plants are wildly abundant. This is why you should only buy one or two seedlings. 

An adequate number of zucchini plants: one.


Radishes are a good beginner plant but I think they taste like farts. Here are tips from a friend: “You just chuck them in the ground.” When I asked for clarification he said, “You just throw the seeds in and loosely cover them, or even don’t if you can’t be fucked.” He says beetroots are just as easy. 

Carrots are often the cheapest vegetable at the supermarket, so I’ve always felt that growing ordinary ones isn’t great value. What I’ve grown instead is little, round carrots. They need a sunny patch of soft, well-draining soil, and like radish seeds, barely need to be covered – think about half a fingernail. Once they’re in, don’t disturb the soil.


Parsley is a godsend, but don’t waste money on seedlings. Sprinkle some seeds in the worst places available – a crack in your driveway, around the side of the house, that random square by the gutter. It will flourish.

Thyme and oregano are hardy little plants that spread across the ground when happy. They also grow well in pots. I have found them to be not too fussy, but do wait till the seedlings have tripled in size before you start eating them.

You don’t need to grow rosemary. Go for a walk and let your neighbours provide.

Everyone says basil grows easily, and does well next to tomatoes. I have not had this luck. It always droops and dies on me. 

Plants to avoid because they’re too much hard work

  • Eggplant has a tendency to make tiny fruit and then die.
  • Coriander pretty much always bolts and goes to seed.
  • Sorrel grows very easily, but it tastes sour which seems wrong for a leaf.
  • The reason you always see kale in people’s gardens is because they haven’t eaten it.

Last but not least

Anything that pops up from your compost is the best. I don’t usually buy pumpkin seeds or seedlings because they are common gifts from the compost overlords.


Top tip: Grow things you actually like eating.

Second top tip: Always drench the garden thoroughly after planting.

Task for the week: Go shopping!

A garden planted when both gardeners had the flu.
Keep going!