It is fun following the progress as seedlings turn into proper plants and watching their character unfold along with the foliage.
As a bonus you end up with a range of unusual indoor plants you could never have bought in the shops – and all for mere pence.
All sorts of unusual, curious and tropical species are available as seeds – Chiltern Seeds has a particularly wide selection and just reading the descriptions in the catalogue is enough to set your chlorophyll racing.
Some of the Mediterranean trees you see abroad make great houseplants and since they’re only slightly tender you can move them to the conservatory when they outgrow a windowsill or stand them out on the patio for the summer.
Jacaranda is particularly elegant with its precise, geometrically arranged, delicate ferny foliage but it is unlikely to produce the big bunches of blue flowers you see when it’s grown around the Med. Eucalyptuses also make great houseplants.
The few hardy species we see in gardens at home are just the tip of the iceberg. In their native Australia there are dozens of attractive, tender types such as lemon-scented Eucalyptus citriodora.
Treat them the same way as Mediterranean plants.
But if you have an experimental turn of mind why not take horticultural pot luck and splash out on even more obscure tropical oddities which you can be quite certain no one else you know will be growing?
You could try the camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), an evergreen from whose bark the famous moth-repellent substance was once extracted.
Or how about Cubanola domingensis, an evergreen from the Dominican Republic which can produce its enormous scented flowers as a baby on a British windowsill?
Or the Panama tree (Sterculia apetala) whose leaves are a foot across? The African Linden (sparrmannia africana) can be tricky to grow from seed but worth the effort.
Things like these usually “sell themselves” from their catalogue description but they are well outside the scope of your average plant encyclopaedia.
The way to fi nd out more about them – or to see a picture – is by searching the internet or going to a reference library (the RHS Libraries if you are a member) and looking up big specialist books on exotic tropical plants. Well it’s all part of the fun for oddity enthusiasts.
The trick of growing such unusual species from seed is to follow the instructions to the letter – some need sowing immediately on delivery while others need special pretreatment.
Indoor oddities are worth making a fuss of, so unless otherwise advised, sow them thinly on the surface of fresh seed compost then cover them to their own depth with horticultural vermiculite.
To water stand them in shallow, tepid water for a few minutes so as not to disturb the seeds then keep them on a warm windowsill out of direct sunlight.
Some species take ages to germinate but once you have strong seedlings, pot them up singly into small pots. If you want to keep indoor oddities small, don’t shift them to bigger containers until you really have to – keeping them slightly pot-bound helps to “dwarf” them.
And if you want to keep them really tiny you can train them as indoor bonsai. Either way they’ll turn your winter indoors into a tropical voyage of discovery.