Saturday, February 26, 2011

In the spring a gardener's thoughts turn to seeds

I met a precocious and charming three year old gardener today. I was at her home to discuss garden design with her mother. The two had worked together last summer in their vegetable garden and I think she's ready to move on to design. When I got out my pad and began to sketch, she ran away and returned with crayons and paper. She's not going to lose touch with the actual garden though; when we left she was picking up branches for cash.

We, the mother and I, talked a bit about children and gardening. My sons have grown up, become landscapers, along the way developing excellent gardening skills. Still, when Susan described her daughters love of flowers and their plans to add a row of sunflowers to the vegetable garden this year, I remembered our family ventures into sunflowers. I guess all children love them; they're so darned big. And they grow so quickly. Seeds in paper cups quickly become scraggly weak seedlings that, planted out in the garden, closely watched and overly tended, turn rapidly into strong vertical plants taller even than parents, and crowned with that ridiculously huge flowering head. And it all comes from one little seed that cardinals like to eat.

A few weeks ago Amanda planted up thirty-odd seed flats of a variety of Rhododendron species; the seeds came from Kevin Conrad via Carole Bordelon. Pat, Amanda, Carole, and I have been checking the flats for germination; so far there hasn't been much, a few dauricum and fewer mucronulatum. Still we're holding out hope.

The whole process of starting seeds is....well, it's fantastical. In the abstract it's one of those things that's so incomprehensible that we rarely examine it closely. Like childbirth. But that's not even what I'm talking about. It's the whole process, the mechanics: the cleaning, or shopping, the preparation of the seed flats, the sowing, the watering, and then the watching.

If the watched pot doesn't boil, the watched seed doesn't germinate. Except they do......eventually. You can monitor a group of seed flats day after day after week after week and suddenly, a day or two before it happens, you just know a particular flat is about to germinate. I like to think it's a mystical awareness, some connection beyond the sensory, some energy associated with the miracle of the birth of a new organism communicating with us, but I am uncertain about that. Sometimes it's just experience. Some seeds germinate predictably in two days, or a week, or two weeks Sometimes it's the subtle swellings of the soil above the moisture absorbing seeds, invisible to the self-aware part of our consciousness, but duly noted by the more perceptive fraction of our psyche and communicated to us in the odd manner that our deeper selves utilize to get information to the surface. But maybe sometimes it is mystical.

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