“Something essential happens in a vegetable garden. It’s a place where if you can’t say ‘I love you’ out loud, you can say it in seeds. And the land will reciprocate in beans.”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants
Hope is in a seed. As we gather our seeds around us, preparing for the spring and summer sowing, it’s easy to lose awareness of all that a seed can hold. No bigger than an ant, seeds contain all that is needed for a small plant to emerge. With thoughtful intention I can cultvate tangy arugula greens and ripe tomatoes, I can sow the seeds for flowers that will fill my vases and nourish bees. There is power in sowing a seed, with a flick of a hand we can watch as the inanimate become animate.
December and January have been filled with exploring the glossy pages of seed catalogs, surely a delight for all gardeners. It becomes an act of will to limit the tomato varieties and flowers that I want to grow. This is a period of hope and expectation, a time when we forget the sore backs of summer months and my hands itch for a handful of fresh basil.
All seeds once had a story and a history. Generations of gardeners before us are encoded in the memory of the seed, those who have selected for the odd corn plant, or the strange shape of a bean. In conserving the seed from anomalous looking plants genetic diversity is maintained; it is encoded in the heirloom varieties of vegetables with different textures, tastes, sizes, and growing conditions. However, with the advent of large “transnational vending machines” as Gary Nabham calls them, we have seen a winnowing in genetic diversity of many of our crops.
Despite the dire threat of losing the genetic diversity of our seeds, I continue to see gardeners collect and save seeds. On a recent December afternoon in the garden I was gifted with such a seed from Al, a neighbor of the winery. Sitting me down Al told me the story of the elephant garlic he pressed into my hand. This elephant garlic started out as one bulb that he has been conserving since 1966. Slowly, over time with continued cultivation one garlic bulb turned into fifteen, then thirty, until Al could readily eat from his storehouse of garlic without diminishing next year’s seed. Humbled to be entrusted with such a gift I tucked each clove into the garden, only six in total. These six bulbs will yield around thirty cloves and thus thirty seeds to continue to grow next year. From seeds older than myself I will continue this story, a simple tradition of passing along the seed and the lore that is encoded in them.
– With love from the Garden