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Niwot Garden Club visits Botanical Interests Seed Company


February 19, 2020

Amy Scanes-Wolfe

The Niwot Garden club visits Botanical Interests.

The first meeting of the season for the newly revived Niwot Garden Club was held at Botanical Interests seed packet company. It was led by Judy Seaborn, one of the company's owners.

"I kind of joke that I was bred to do this," she said.

Seaborn grew up in Los Gatos, California, with a mother and two sets of grandparents who all gardened. When she was a child, her parents once tried to punish her with weeding; she was thrilled. In fact, as someone who preferred dirt to books, it was finally a subscription to the Organic Gardening Magazine that taught Seaborn how to read.

So it may be unsurprising that Seaborn ended up running a seed company.

Former Niwotian Curtis Jones and Niwot resident Judy Seaborn co-own Botanical Interests Seed Company. Twenty-five years after its inception, Botanical Interests is the largest seed company in Colorado and employs 48-52 people on-site and 54 as road reps.

One of the first things people notice about Botanical Interests seeds is the packets themselves. "As a gardener, I wasn't happy with the information or selection of varieties that seed packets offered," said Seaborn. Into an industry filled with cheap, often misleading packaging, Seaborn introduced botanical illustration. Talented artists create realistic renditions of the living plant, and graphic designers translate this into personal, accurate, and beautiful packaging.

Another notable addition is a planting timeline based on frost date. Botanical Interests was the first seed company to print this useful information, inspired by Seaborn's rough transition from gardening in California to gardening in Colorado. "'Sow in spring' meant something completely different in Colorado than it did in California," said Seaborn.

The current facility is enormous, with seed stacked floor to ceiling, refrigerated space for sensitive seeds, and spacious marketing offices. But it wasn't always that way. "We were busting out," said Seaborn. "I literally had people in closets."

Now, people have individual offices clustered together by department. Each office has a cork board next to its door so employees can customize. While the cork boards in the computer engineering department are noticeably blank, customer service is downright festive. Seaborn strives to situate employees where their personalities will allow them to thrive. Her guiding question: "What is super easy for you to do?"

She also strives to involve all employees in setting company standards and brainstorming ways to improve.

Seaborn sources seeds from growers worldwide. And unlike many manufacturers, she can't order more stock as it runs out--it has to be grown. Seed is grown on contract with growers who need to grow, harvest, dry, and sort it before it lands in the warehouse.

Once seed arrives at her facility, she uses a seed probe (which looks like an oversized metal pencil) to select a sample for germination testing. It's important that seeds germinate well. "If a gardener is going to trust us that this little seed that looks like a rock is going to grow, we want to be sure we respect that trust and provide the best quality seed we can."

This is especially important for valuable seed varieties that come with only 25 seeds per packet. "Hybrid seeds are crazy expensive," said Seaborn; she once had to sign for a small bag of hybrid tomato seed worth $10,000.

The "small and expensive seeds" are packed in a machine that can count out precise quantities, place them in a sachet that is then delivered to the paper packet. The sachet gives the seed package a fuller feel and prevents small seeds from getting stuck in the creases of the package. Botanical Interests has a variety of other packet-filling machines for seeds of varying shapes and sizes.

Once seeds are packed, pickers fill orders and package them for shipping. Picking and shipping is a year-round activity. "The day after Christmas is one of our biggest shipping days," Seaborn said.

Almost all of Botanical Interests seeds are sold in stores as "rack sales," though there is an online store (www.botanicalinterests.com). Stores can custom-order, or Botanical Interests offers regionally adapted kits. Several nearby stores that carry Botanical Interests seeds are Harlequin's Gardens, Niwot Market, The Flower Bin, Sturtz & Copeland, Lafayette Florist, McGuckins, The Tree Farm, and ACE Hardware.

The Niwot Garden Club plans to meet the second Saturday of every month to share knowledge and to learn about various garden-related topics. Those interested in getting involved should email niwotgardenclub@gmail.com with their name, address, email, phone number, and a paragraph describing themselves and/or their garden.


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