Fall really does creep in. It takes less than a month for summer to bow out, warm days turning more consistently cloudy and cool. Fortunately, autumn presents us with those sparklingly clear days, meant to be enjoyed with little agenda beyond appreciating the greens, blues, oranges and browns that color late September.
I’m not harvesting much from the garden now, but I’m collecting a lot. Whenever I am outside near the nasturtiums, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, calendula and marigolds, I reach over and pick a shriveled blossom. Some I cup in my hand as is, others I gently pull apart to reveal the seeds hidden below. It has become a momentary meditation, searching for the seeds among the still blooming and the brown and dead. I’m not a seed saving expert, but having planted these flowers from seed, it’s not hard to find the next generation of plants that the flowers leave behind.
The seeds are so varied. Some are barely whisps, light quills so unlike the petals from which they came. Nasturtium seeds are clunky round things while calendula makes spirals covered with tiny spikes. I have to dig a bit to find the zinnia seeds under the dried up flower. Sunflowers are not surprising until I look more closely at the way each seed is arranged in some kind of perfect mathematical formula. I’ve been gathering seeds from wild flowers, too. Lupine by the side of the road, queen anne’s lace from a neighbor’s field, St John’s wort from an overgrown part of our yard. I’d like to collect the seeds from our milkweed plants once the pods dry up and send their fluff flying on the fall winds.
I’m not a scientific seed saver. I am enjoying the process of gathering, not selecting the biggest or best as seed growers do. I know that some of the seeds won’t sprout, maybe because I harvested them too early, or too late or thought I found the seed when it was some other part of the plant. Some plants don’t grow well from seed, they prefer to send up new shoots from the old plants. After I fill my palm with as many seeds as I can find, I leave them in tangles and piles and jars on the windows which isn’t optimal storage. But I know that given more or less the right conditions, seeds want to grow. If I don’t collect them, most will simply fall to the ground and probably sprout up again in the spring.
I’m collecting the seeds because it is fun and I like the idea of harvesting for the future. Maybe we’ll make some seed packets and give seeds as gifts but mostly I am dreaming about my plan to plant the seeds in a wide border at the edge of our yard next to the road. It may take a few years to get it established but, already, I can’t wait to spread the seeds and see what sprouts in the spring.
One flower makes a tiny handful of seeds and each one has the potential to be another flower and more seeds again and again. That one small beautiful thing can create so many more, feels hopeful. It is an abstract, imprecise lesson in making the world a better place.