I must have planted fifty or sixty feverfew seeds. I had seen the picture in the seed catalogue and remembered how much I like their stubby white daisy petals around the golden center. They sometimes grow wild alongside the road and in abandoned fields – a kind of poor-man’s daisy. As I ordered them, I imagined having a riches of feverfew – maybe ten or twenty plants covering part of the hillside behind the temple – unassuming and quietly beautiful.
The tiny bits of seed came in small plastic bag at the bottom of a plain white packet. The fifty or sixty we got could nearly fit on the head of a pin. I thought of them as small as angels, these miniscule bits of life – each one waiting (I imagined) the proper music to begin dancing.
Though I have gardened for many years, I am not an expert gardener. I consider myself to be merely an enthusiast. I don’t make elaborate plans and I don’t keep careful records. I’m more of a dreamer and impulsive gardener. I pore through garden catalogues, read the description of ‘syringa vulgaris President Lincoln’, and imagine bright colors and sweet smells. Then, when the impulse becomes irresistible, I choose some particular seeds and plants, stick them somewhere in the garden and see what happens.
The positive side of my gardening style, is that it takes very little to delight me. I’m always surprised. Even one seed sprouting seems like a miracle. My true garden always emerges on its own. I am not the master planner, but the master cooperator. The joy is joining in with the miraculous and tender force of life that is much wilder and more wonderful than I could imagine.
The negative side of my natural style is that I only vaguely remember from year to year what worked and how I did it. Most of the time that is good enough – in fact all the time that is good enough – but the results are mixed. This year, with these seeds, I’m afraid my casual style did not lead to the desired results.
I carefully sprinkled the nearly invisible seeds over the top of some potting soil in a six inch pot. Then I made the first of three mistakes. I lightly sprinkled potting soil on top of the seeds as we had the other seeds we started that day. I weren’t supposed to do this as the seed needs light to germinate, but by the time I read this on the seed packet, the tiny seeds were already covered – no way to find them. Mistake number one.
Mistake number two was that this particular pot did not make it onto the warming mat. If I’d thought ahead, I might have used other pots and arranged them to all fit, but as it was, one of the three kinds of seeds I planted that day had to endure a cool room temperature rather than the balmy warmth that seeds often prefer.
The final mistake was wrapping plastic tightly over the top of the pot to keep the soil moist. The soil stayed moist, but instead of tiny green sprouts, only small white patches of fuzzy mold appeared. Gardeners refer to this as ‘damping off fungus.’ Or more precisely I should say, I have heard gardeners speak of ‘damping off fungus’ and I assume that this white mold that appeared where I expected seedlings is what they are referring to.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I planted the seeds then walked by every day – looking for the first sprouts. After a little less than a week, the other seed types sprouted – even the tiny black-eyed Susan sprouts that were no bigger than a few grains of sand. Even two and a half weeks later they still have the tiniest stems and leaves. Growing so slowly they appear utterly still. But nothing has appeared in the pot of feverfew seeds except the aforementioned white fuzzy patches.
I’ve nearly given up hope. It’s a small garden catastrophe. The stubby white petals stay on the hillside of the garden in my head but do not appear to be on their way toward appearing in my actual garden. Nobody sells the seeds or I’d go pick up another pack. Of course it’s fine. I’m fine. With seeds so small, I assume the plant makes thousands and thousands with the expectation that only a few will survive. If they all survived, the planet would be overtaken with feverfew in a decade or two. One gives rise to ten thousand, ten thousand to hundred million, and so on. Clearly the low germination rate is part of a quite successful survival strategy for feverfew – small seeds, small investments with many opportunities.
We did our best, but it wasn’t good enough. Sometimes it’s like that. You don’t remember well enough and forget to bring home the milk. Or you misplace the key bit of information you needed for the report. Or the help you offer is not the help that was needed. Fortunately the universe does appear to offer us many opportunities. Mistakes will be made. Apologies are sometimes required.
This time, I wasn’t so skillful, but I hope I’ve added to my intuitive store of gardening wisdom. I don’t know which of my mistakes was the fatal one, but I do know that all three together were exactly wrong. Maybe next year I’ll remember to leave the smallest seeds open to the light, with the pot loosely covered and on the warming mat.
The crocuses bloom
garish and sudden
from the dead litter
of last year’s garden.
Once again I am delighted
at their innocent disruption.
This perennial gaiety
would be bitter medicine
for my dark winter soul
if it didn’t gladden my heart so.
Life lurches forward through cataclysm—
not the continuous blossom of possibility
we had hoped, but rather a variable speedism
so extreme the fabric itself seems rent.
This normal aberration of expectation
undoes us all—suddenly reorganizing
us out of our previous selves into some
new liberation that begins in darkness.
What we thought solid is lost into
the fearful reality of insubstantiality—
perhaps just a lively trick by the God of all things
to demonstrate the truth behind the curtain:
we are all merely wriggling ephemera,
appearing momentarily certain of self,
only to fall back in awful reverence
as we find ourselves reborn with regularity.
So next time you situate yourself
in front of the porcelain bowl,
savor the fleeting freedom
of perching on two feet and
the treat of holding your own.
Like life itself—this is
only a passing extravagance.
I was happy to read this morning in my New York Times briefing that mentions that Republicans think that Donald Trump has the best chance to be elected and that the migrants fleeing from the Middle East have found northern route to Western Europe now that the southern route has been closed—happy to read that today is National Play-Doh Day.
I didn’t even know that the ubiquitous multi-colored clay that smelled so good was spelled Play-Doh and not Play-Dough. But just saying the name brings back the bright colors and the slightly damp, sweet fragrance. When our daughter was young, we used to make it at home – not a difficult recipe, but you could never match the particular color, smell and silky texture of the original stuff.
Doing a little armchair detective work (consulting Wikipedia) this morning, I discovered why. Play-Doh’s current manufacturer, Hasbro, reveals the compound is primarily a mixture of water, salt, and flour, while its 2004 United States patent indicates it is composed of water, a starch-based binder, a retrogradation inhibitor, salt, lubricant, surfactant, preservative, hardener, humectant, fragrance, and color. A petroleum additive gives the compound a smooth feel, and borax prevents mold from developing.
No wonder we couldn’t get it just right. We were missing the secret ingredients.
I wonder if I could get a small bottle of ‘humectant’ on line? I wonder what humectant even is? Further research (clicking through on Wikipedia) discloses that a humectant is a substance that keeps things moist—the opposite of a desiccant which most of us know as something that comes in little packages that say ‘Do Not Eat This’, which of course makes me want to offer it to someone near me to munch on. I mostly resist this tendency except when around those I love.
So my world is slightly larger this morning. Along with an increased vocabulary and technical knowledge, I smile as I remember the fantastic Play-Doh factory that extruded an endless stream of shapes as we pressed down on the lever. But it’s the smell and the bright colors that are most vivid. The stuff of the lumpy things we made and called horses and people and houses and flowers and gave to our mother.
I wonder if it’s the humectant or the retrogradation inhibitor that has kept the memories so fresh and tangy?