Habits, good or bad, are formed early. Take brushing teeth for example. If I tried to tell you how many times I brushed my teeth during my long life, this page would not hold all the numbers. The same goes for seeds I have collected. This article would not hold all the numbers, because it was a habit I learned early.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 2, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but pleae be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The first task that I was given was that of helping to gather seeds. My mother had a yard full of annuals so my job was pretty big. I performed that task so well, it became a habit, and it has grown with every passing summer. I have become a seed addict.
If you were thinking of embracing an addiction, collecting seeds is the ideal passion. It isn't without danger, however, since I find myself pulling over on the interstate highways just to check out a patch of wild black eyed susans that I must have. And I sometimes have been known to lean over the balcony of a home I am visiting to gather seeds of sweetpeas growing up from a trellis down below. And there is nothing like being dressed for the theatre, heels and all, and crossing the creek to see if those red poppies have seeded yet. So yes, as with all addictions, seed collecting can be ripe with danger.
It all started years ago, when I was old enough to write. I started labeling seeds I had collected. My mother had a box of very small envelopes, so she taught me to keep the seeds sorted and to put all like seeds into the same envelope, label it, and seal it. That went very well for a few years, until I had a brilliant idea. My mother had always told me I had been born with a silver tongue, not a silver spoon in my mouth, but a silver tongue. It seems she thought that wasn't a very good gift, since I used it quite eloquently to get myself out of the trouble that I was prone to fall into with every move. It was actually her fault, though, since she had taught me to have a reason for everything I did.
We had gathered seeds throughout the growing season, and as I labeled them, I kept two of every kind of seed out for myself. I collected them apart from the other seeds because I had an idea. As I collected my own envelopes, I hid them in my jewelry box. The jewelry box had been a gift for some occasion, and I wasn't much for jewelry, so it remained fairly empty. It was a great place to hide the seeds until I could follow through with my great idea. My little collection of two seeds grew quickly.
It was quite simple really. I knew that some animals hibernated in winter, sleeping for months buried under the snow. I envisioned snow covered caves for bears, and snow covered mud for frogs. And I thought the yet to be born puppies that my dog Pepper had every year were buried somewhere under the snow, too. In my mind, the snow was a protector, keeping the animals warm. It stood to reason that the seeds that we missed when we collected had fallen to the ground and the snow would protect them as well, else why would those unplanted morning glories show up on the corn stalks every year? I knew they hadn't been planted by a person.
The snow came in November, as it always did. I told my mother that I was going outside to play in the snow, but in my pocket I had all those seeds I had saved for myself, two of a kind. I had a reason for that as well. Noah took his animals aboard the ark, two of a kind. Somehow that made sense with my seeds. I was planning a spring surprise for my mother so I went out to play in the snow as it continued to fall.
I had it all planned in my mind. I would poke those seeds, one at a time, down into the snow until the seed was on the ground. The snow would cover it, and no one would know until spring when it came up and bloomed. I placed the morning glory seeds close to the hedge that grew along the front, so they would have a place to climb. I remember placing the zinnias next, because I knew they would be tall. Marigolds were a little smaller so they were placed in front of the zinnias. I went to the other side of the yard, where more bushes grew, and I buried under that snow all the sweetpea seeds, because I knew they needed a place to vine. And so it went, I must have planted 20 or more double seeds, two of each kind I had saved.
Winter passed and so did the snow. The rains came in the spring along with sunshine, and before the grass needed to be mowed, I noticed my flowers popping up just where I had planted them. I didn't say a word about them to anybody. Soon they were taller than the grass and my mother said casually: "There are zinnias growing in my front yard, I didn't plant them there." She didn't normally have annuals in the front yard unless they were in pots. Her annuals grew in the rich dirt of the back yard gardens. When she saw the marigolds begin to sprout, followed by the morning glories and sweet peas, she began questioning me. "Your dad needs to mow the yard, and he is going to mow down all those flowers that have sprouted there. What do you think we should do with all those plants that are growing in the way of the mower?"
I put my silver tongue to work: "Well, Mom, I think the birds planted those flowers last fall, and I think the snow protected them all winter, and since I don't want them to be cut down, how about if I move them to the back yard? You reckon that might work?" Mom thought for a minute, and then she said: "You tell your little bird that she is way too smart if she can plant two seeds of the same flower together, but yes, I think it would be a good job for you to transplant all those seeds into the back yard, or maybe your little bird could do it for you." And so I did.
That was the beginning of my seed addiction, and that same addiction has grown by leaps and bounds. I don't plant in the snow anymore, but I am here to tell you that it works. What I do now is collect seeds from near and far, and during the winter when seed catalogs come in I cut pictures from the catalogs of the seeds that I have. I arrange those pictures on a piece of poster board, glue them down as I would like for them to grow, and envision the garden that I could have if I only had more of those seeds. I also have been known to print pictures off the net, cut them out and do the same with them. I have my garden planned on poster board long before the last snowflake has fallen.
The very best part is that my friends know of my addiction. My Dave's Garden buddies send seeds to me, my local friends call and say: "I collected seeds for you, shall I bring them over?", and I still collect seeds whenever I see them growing along the roadside. I collect only a couple of them, though, because that's all it takes in order to have a garden full of plants and I like to leave the rest to nature. I try to curtail my addiction when it comes to crossing creeks in high heels now, and I usually ask if I see sweetpeas growing up balconies. That doesn't mean I have the addiction under control, it just means that my yard is not growing any larger, though my flower gardens are, and I am quickly running out of room. The solution to that is sharing seeds.
It isn't unusual for me to create gift baskets with seeds, tiny envelopes appropriately labeled along with a small hand spade in a nice little basket tied up in a bow. My little old lady friends in the nursing home love those gifts, because I include in theirs a small pot and a little ziplock bag filled with a mix of compost and dirt. One of my close friends doesn't like to start with seeds, so for her I will plant a community pot filled with my favorites and give the pot to her when the blooms start. I look at the sharing as an addiction control, don't you agree? Of course it also eases the guilt of knowing that I have drawers filled with little packets of seeds.
But trust me, as soon as spring is here, they will be planted, and the addiction will start all over again. It never fails.
All photos in the article are from my own collection. Special thanks to gloriag, jraubo, heavenscape, avaeads, soulja, and others of my dear DG friends who happily are my enablers.
About Sharon Brown
I am a retired high school art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast KY and now I live with my two rescued cats, Jazz and Daisy, in far western KY. I am an artist often doing commissioned work, and in addition to writing articles for Dave's Garden, I also write boating stories for a nautical magazine as well as other venues. My greatest loves are writing, painting, my 5 year old grandson, then learning the history of our numerous wildflowers in Kentucky. And, of course, there's gardening.