My hands, each of its creases and wrinkles illustrated in fine germination mix, hold the tiny promises. We cradle hundreds of them in our palms, keep thousands in vest pockets. Tenderly, carefully, we lay down the thick stubs of echinacea, the slivers of arnica, and the many shades of mad dog skullcap brown. Like all promises, not all of the potential within this myriad of seeds will be realized. However, I sow them and dream of the future that I’ll give to those that sprout.
In this season of spring, as buds are slowly bulging and I am shown my first blooming snowdrops, the birds are singing again. My day is filled with the sweetness of sounds and discoveries which, like some favorite words, I always forget until they sneak up on me and thrill me with their textures, their singular tones, the richness of their meanings.
Right now, though, it’s the language of seeds that most captivates me.
(Here I will break with the italics and let you note and savor the nouns of seed starting without stylistic props. Say them aloud, feel them in your mouth, picture them in your mind’s eye. These words, these things, are nearly all common, but when reflected upon we remember them to be miraculous.)
Beginning in late February, I fill trays with soil, create furrows with my fingers, tuck in the seeds, and baptize everything with a watering can. Filled with this life giving water and the warm ultraviolet touch of the sun, the tiny plant within the seed, an embryo, begins to grow. Every part of it swells—the root, the cotyledons, the tiny stem and the infinitesimal “true leaves.”
Upon sprouting the first thing to escape from the swollen shell is usually the root, breaking out like a breach birth and digging down toward the center of the earth, thus creating a white anchor for the plant’s aerial parts to stand on.
The stem breaks from the soil and thrusts toward the sun bearing the cotyledon: a leaf (or two) which is thick with proteins and starches—nutrients imparted by the mother that are essential to the seedling’s survival. Once all of the cotyledon’s stores have been absorbed by the rest of the plant (you can see this happen as they depart from their initial state— verdant and perky—and slowly wither and fall from the plant), their mission in life—the provision of vital sustenance when its needed most—has been fulfilled. Used up, they fall from the plant.
Prior to the departure of the cotyledons the first true leaves emerge. They delight the viewer, who suddenly sees a miniature version of the plant from which the seed was made, rather than a little green thing which, to the inexperienced eye, is indecipherable from any other sprout. Discovering these true leaves is akin to finding the resemblance of a relative in the face of a child for the first time—it astounds you and reminds you of that being’s provenance.
It’s amazing to think that a seed as tiny as yarrow’s contains everything that a plant needs to be birthed. Within that seed, 200 of which can fill a tablespoon with room to spare, resides that wholly microscopic embryo—two tiny cotyledons, one stem, one patient root. Even when we know the anatomy, or, rather, the botany, of the mystery, those how’s and why’s and numbers, the sudden arrival of life is no less overwhelming, glorious, and beautiful.
Over the weekend we saw our first yarrow seedlings sprouted, reaching those outrageously tiny cotyledons out of the soil, carried by the itty bitty stems that slithered up from the root. We took pictures and cooed, praising the newborn plants which, of course, could no more understand our language than could an infant child. But, like that child who thrives off of the mother, regardless of its ability to translate the exact definitions of syllables, these plants in their bright infancy will, hopefully, thrive off of us, welcoming our water and accepting our gifts of heat and concentrated greenhouse sunshine. We put faith in that hope, and then we sow more seeds.