Everyone who gardens ends up with some extra seeds. They may be half-empty packets that didn't get used the previous year, or they may be seeds you collected from your non-hybrid plants such as cleome (spider flower).
Those unused seeds are actually a gardening resource. Why not swap them for something you'd like more?
Swapping seeds has a number of advantages for gardeners: You save money, you get to try more varieties of various plants than you ordinarily would, you locate seeds of rare and unusual plants, you find a home for your unused seeds, and you get to share (which always makes you feel good). Often, you also make friends.
Thanks to the Internet, you don't even have to have a wide circle of friends who garden in order to swap seeds. Here are some sites that provide opportunities (just click on the name):
It's true that there are always unknowns when you're swapping by mail. You can overcome those by setting up a seed swap with a local group. Many plant societies do this every year.
If you have excess flower seeds that you aren't interested in swapping but would like to see used, you might want to consider donating them to Keep America Beautiful's Operation Green Plant, which provides free seeds to beautification projects.
Or if you have too many vegetable seeds, why not plant them anyway and donate the produce you grow to a local soup kitchen or food bank? Plant a Row for the Hungry has a wonderful volunteer program that encourages this. Call their toll-free number with any questions and download a brochure. This year, especially, fresh food for those in need is important.
It's not exactly the free seeds promised in the beginning of this post, but it's free food for the hungry, which is important to all of us.
(Note: We invite you to visit the Monitor's main gardening page, which offers articles, essays, and blogs on a wide variety of garden topics.)