The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
The magic of seeds goes beyond their amazing numbers and viability. They’re also, in many cases, simply beautiful.
Top Left: Wingstem’s distinctive seed clusters. Top Right: Milkweed pods releasing fluff-borne seeds to ride the wind. Bottom Left: Seedheads of Queen Anne’s Lacelook like little birds’ nests. Bottom Center: Asters have seeds with fluffy parachutes to carry them on the wind. Bottom Right: The bowed seedhead of torch tithonia (Mexican sunflower)
My brother once remarked that the best part of hiking wasn’t the hike itself, but the flood of well-being after the hike is over. The same could be said for gardening. There’s nothing better than fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and corn on the cob – except the relief that comes when a killing frost says, “End of shift.” All that remains is garden cleanup, which is quite enough. Even that can be postponed awhile. Time to rest on your laurels and begin enjoying your full larder instead of battling bugs, blight, drought and heat.
Time to walk down the road and gather seed from the wild plants you admired when they were blooming and want to get started in your yard. Though saving vegetable seed is a venerable tradition in the Blue Ridge, I’ve never done much of that. (Too many temptations in the seed catalogs that show up earlier and earlier each year.) I’m more of a seed re-distributor than saver anyway. True, I sometimes collect dried seedheads from my marigolds and zinnias to start indoors for transplanting out. But most of the seeds I gather I scatter right away, where I hope they’ll germinate next spring.
I never set out on a fall walk without some small plastic bags in my pocket. But plants past their prime have more to offer than seeds. In his great poem “Wild Geese,” Wendell Berry describes opening a persimmon seed “to find the tree/ that stands in promise,/ pale, in the seed’s marrow.” What are seeds – every one, from whatever plant produced them– but promise, of the wild world’s resurrection and return? ...