Aside from the garden of Eden, man’s great temptation took place when he first perceived his seed catalog. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is the time of year when seed catalogs take on a life of their own, slithering off the coffee table, piling near a favorite chair, and populating the bedside. Earmarked and rife with notes, circled photos, and exclamatory punctuation, the catalogs bear witness to the pent up longing for color and new life that is part of every gardener’s spring fever. Some of the seeds are already here, along with a supply of pots, flats, and bagged soil; others are still to be ordered. Every year, as I begin the late winter planting, I consider the profound act of planting a seed.
Although we may live in a high tech world estranged from our agricultural beginnings, our language continues to allude to the power of a tiny seed to start life, to change the world. Seeds of change, seeds of destruction, ideas that germinate, going to seed – the language of seeds is endless. While gardeners may engage in literally planting the seeds of flowers and trees, everyone engages in the metaphorical act of planting a seed. Almost 2000 years ago, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote “Everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.” More recently, author Alice Walker observed “And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see . . .”
What is it about the act of planting a seed that holds such power? The first time I grew plants from seed instead of buying them in market packs from the garden nursery was a memorable adventure. After many phone calls to my mother to make sure that I was doing “everything right” I planted packets of my favorite flowers and felt far more attached to them than anything I had bought full grown. As I placed the seeds in the moist earth, I felt as if I were participating in an ancient ritual full of meaning and promise, a small act with enormous consequences. “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Perhaps it is the way in which seeds begin the cycle of life from seed to germination to growth and flower and back to seed again that entrances us and provides such a perfect metaphor for how we move through time and how it flows before us and after us. “If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then to me.” (Shakespeare)
Tomorrow, I will plant seeds in dark soil, give them water, light and warmth, and trust in the miracle that they will emerge and grow and grace the world. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” (Martin Luther)
To see how a seed germinates and grows, here are a few links to some wonderful time lapse movies. Enjoy!
Timelapse of seed germination and growth of corn
Time lapse of radishes germinating and growing
Timelapse of the entire life cycle of plants, from seed to flower to seed production in 40 days.
Text and photos ©2012 Lynn Emberg Purse, all rights reserved.
Please do not reblog.
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Planting seeds is like the earliest part of the creative process, getting an idea that you get to then play a part in as well as watching it grow. It’s the best!
Given the ultimate power in a seed, no wonder it is a powerful metaphor. Well done!
Absolutely, Frank. I am always so impressed every year by the power of the tiny life emerging from the soil. And I love the time-lapse videos that illustrate that so well. I’m going to try making some of my own plant time-lapse movies this spring – new adventure!
We planted a few seeds a few days ago, a few herbs only. I wish I had a larger garden and a chance to grow vegetables, but now the goal is simply to get a few proper herbs up for the summer 🙂
I used to plant with my mom when I was a child, and love to do it now with my son. Truly a though provoking activity
Hello, Anne. As you know from your own childhood experiences, planting seeds with your children makes an impression for life. How wonderful that you are sharing this with your son!
I don’t have much room or enough sun for many veggies here, so most of my garden is ornamental though I have a lot of herbs and garlic in the sunny spots outside of the deer fence. Last year, I had great success with tomatos and lettuces in large pots on the south facing deck, so I am expanding that endeavor this year – I look forward to my “salad days” 🙂
I’m not a gardener but somehow your blog post well suggests the acting of helping something grow, as participating in Nature’s creativity. An image that has parallels in other areas of creative endeavor.
May your garden multiply in lovely and fruitful blooms.
Jean, thanks for visiting and for your lovely wishes. I think you are exactly right about the creative act.
oh I so love planting seeds. Every year when I hoe the garden and lay out my rows for carrots, parsnips, beets, broccoli, turnip. peas and beans and on and on, I feel blessed. There is something magical about planting a tiny seed into the ground and knowing in a few weeks it will have grown into food for us. I plant the seeds, with bare hands, and cover them with soil and say a blessing and a thank you.
Joss, your garden sounds wonderful, nothing like hands in the dirt!
Beautiful post! I wish i had your talent in the garden 🙂 thanks for sharing
Rebecca, thanks for visiting. Ah, the garden is a passion for me, much to the dismay of my back 🙂
Perfect: beautifully written and lovely metaphor for now: you’ve seeded my spirit and inspired my heart. I’ve been looking at the catalogs and re-configuring garden plans for weeks: today I just want to walk around the yard and, like the angel in the Talmud, whisper, “Grow, grow!”
Catherine, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. And you used one of my very favorite quotes!
Lynn, thanks for that beautiful meditation. Your thoughts, along with Shakespeare’s, Luther’s, and Emerson’s, will be with me today.
(The acorn quote and picture also reminds me James Hillman’s “acorn theory” which he talks about in his book, The Soul’s Code.)
Joe, thanks for visiting and commenting. I did not know about James Hillman but a quick bit of research and I am wondering why I didn’t. I love your reference to the acorn theory and it seems an apt comparison. Thanks for suggesting this, I am completely intrigued.
Very thought provoking post. The coding of life itself are embedded in a seed, so profound!
Mimo, what a great comment. Seed as the code, the embodiment of the DNA pattern. Love the imagery.
Oh, I am all over this post! As much as I keep proclaiming I’m a ‘winter person’ (and I am–the bare-branched tree is such a powerful draw artistically for me), I’ve got my miniature delphiniums sprouting from the seeds I gathered from their parents last Fall. It may be Winter outside (a good 12″), and inside my head, but the furnace room has a bank of grow lights over top an old ironing board (so I can adjust the height easily) with trays ready for just the right moment to begin germination. This year the goal is to have clouds of Gypsophila (baby’s breath) between the perennials. I want no discernible gaps, and continuous blooms, so am staggering the germination times. Oh, you have whetted my Spring fever!!!! And now, for some music . . . .
Lance, thanks for the kind note. It is always great to meet another gardener – I’m a big fan of “artists’ gardens” because of the obvious love of color and attention to detail. I too have a bank of lights in my furnace room – I love the image of the ironing board as adjustable height shelf – ingenious! I had a rough 3 shelf system built and use shop lights on chains that I adjust with S hooks to get my seeds started. It makes the garden season one step closer!
lovely. thank you for filling me in on your plans/methods. sometimes the anticipation is almost better–almost.
I think it just might be one of the few primal instincts we humans still retain -it takes the seed; plants it, cares to it and harvest it.
And thank you. your post reminded me my mother asked me to order a seed catalog on-line for her.
Hudson, I think you are right in this. And you are more than welcome for the reminder!
Lovely post, with very apt Shakespeare and Martin Luther quotes… 😉
Thanks, Vlad. The Martin Luther quote was a new one to me, but seemed very appropriate In these unsettled times.
It seems to be a softer, more human version of “Here I stand. I can do no other.” “Planting a seed” is an entirely apt metaphor for him…
Great piece, Lynn. The point about how ubiquitous the “seed” metaphor is in the English language is quite astute.
Thanks, Kerry – it is something that has always struck me especially at this time of year.