Seeds Are Not Always Reliable

Posted on: 03 October 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Don't be put off if your plants didn’t flourish - it could be the seeds.

Which? Gardening's annual seed report has revealed that, once again, a number of leading flower and vegetable seed brands are still not up to scratch. 

In one packet of Dobies “Redskin” pepper seed, all nine seeds were dead, while a packet of Marshalls “Tender and True” parsnip seeds contained 80 per cent dead seed.

The Research

In February 2008, five mystery shoppers each bought three packets of vegetable seed – parsley, parsnip and sweet pepper – and three packets of flower seed – pansy, salvia and delphinium – from 17 leading online suppliers.  Where available, Which? Gardening bought the same variety from all 17 suppliers. 

An International Seed Testing Association accredited laboratory germinated the seed in temperature controlled cabinets.  Each type of seed was given the precise temperature and amount of light known to maximise germination. Every seed that failed to germinate was dissected under a microscope to determine whether it was dead.

Which? Gardening found DT Brown and Marshalls to be the worst performers.  57 per cent of Marshalls’ delphinium “Pacific Giants mixed' and 80 per cent of its parsnip seeds were found to be unviable. 

DT Brown scored badly for the second year running with only 62 per cent of seed producing healthy seedlings in Which? Gardening tests. 

Unwins seeds performed well in the vegetable germination trials, but, similar to last year, performed less well in the flower seed trials with 50 per cent of its delphinium seeds found to be dead. 

Johnsons also produced a mixed bag of results – an impressive 87 per cent of its flower seeds produced healthy seedlings, but only 63 per cent of its vegetable seeds did so.

Plants of Distinction was awarded Overall Best Buy with 85 per cent of its seed producing healthy plants. 

Johnsons and Chiltern Seeds were awarded Best Buys for flower seeds.

Best Buys

Eight seed companies were awarded Best Buys for vegetable seeds and they were Simpson’s Seeds, Suttons, Unwins, Suffolk Herbs, Kings, Nicky’s Nursery and Seeds-by-Size.

Which? Gardening is a subscription-only gardening magazine published 10 times a year by Which?  For details on how to receive 3 issues of Which? Gardening for £3, telephone 01992 822800 or visit

Have you had problems with seeds from any of these companies?  If so leave a comment below or share your views in the 50connect forums.

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