Castle Gardens presents Adam Alexander - The Seed Detective 18/11/22
‘I didn’t know what to expect from this humble Ukrainian pepper when I first took it into the kitchen but, as soon as I had a nibble, I was smitten’.
The taste of a Ukrainian pepper – the Capsicum annuum – in Donetsk 30 years ago had a life-changing effect on filmmaker Adam Alexander. While shopping in the central markets, amid the economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union, he started to discover more local growers selling vegetables and fruits, who had been cultivating heritage varieties and saving seed on small plots of lands for generations. Adam began to seek out these local growers, saving seeds from all over the world, on a mission to bring home spectacular varieties to catalogue, grow and share – and hopefully prevent them from being lost forever.
In The Seed Detective, Adam shares his tales of seed hunting and the stories behind many of our everyday vegetable heroes. We learn that the common garden pea was domesticated from three wild species over 8,500 years ago; that Egyptian priests considered it a crime to even look at a fava bean, that the first carrots originated in Afghanistan (and were purple or red in colour) and that the Romans were fanatical about asparagus. Taking us on a journey that began when we left the life of the hunter-gatherer to become farmers, Adam tells tales of globalisation, political intrigue, colonisation and serendipity – describing how these vegetables and their travels have become embedded in our food cultures.
A keen gardener since boyhood, Adam now lives in Wales and focuses full-time on his garden. He grows over 100 varieties a year on his 3.5 acre, south-facing vegetable plot next to his house – a garden that has its own presence in the media already. From high summer to late winter he spends his time harvesting the dried pods of beans and peas, scooping seeds from ripe tomatoes and rotting cucumbers, washing and drying them on every available window sill. His garage is filled with jars of over 500 seeds collected from around the world and saved from previous crops, all of which he uses, shares and sends to the Heritage Seed Library.
‘We are a nation of vegetable growers,’ says Adam, ‘and this book explores the wonderful world of rare and endangered heritage and heirloom vegetables – and why we must keep growing them and saving their seed, not only for our gardening and culinary pleasure, but to pass these stories on. Vegetables are truly our history on a plate.’
Adam Alexander is a consummate storyteller thanks to forty years as an award-
winning film and television producer, but his true passion is collecting rare,
endangered but, above all, delicious vegetables from around the world. He lectures widely on his work discovering and conserving rare, endangered garden crops, is a board member of the national charity Garden Organic, and his knowledge and expertise on growing out vegetables for seed is highly valued by the Heritage Seed Library, for which he is a seed guardian. Adam shares seeds with other growers and gene banks in the USA, Canada and the EU, and he is currently growing out seed of heritage Syrian vegetables to be returned to the Middle East as part of a programme to revive traditional horticulture. He has appeared on Gardeners’ World and the Great British Food Revival, CNN’s Going Green and Radio New Zealand. Follow him on Twitter @vegoutwithadam.