There's no better way to celebrate the end of this awful winter than to stock up on seeds and get ready to break new ground. Gardening always keeps you guessing, because you never know from one season to the next what might delight you, and what might disappoint you. Inevitably, some seeds sprout and thrive while others rot, wither, or fall victim to some fungus or critter. That's life.
If you're afraid to try growing fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables from seed because you might fail, you're depriving yourself of the chance to witness the wondrous evolution of a seed into beautiful blooms, fruits, leaves and roots. It's humbling and heartening to take part in a ritual so primal, and one that's so essential to our survival. It's even more gratifying when you realize that you can transform a packet of seeds into a patch of greens or flowers with even just a little time and effort. And it's easier to do that when you've got savvy seed farmers like the folks at the Hudson Valley Seed Library reviving rare, choice varieties of seeds that are especially well-suited to your region.
The HVSL has also made a name for itself by revitalizing another long-lost facet of the seed trade: seed packet art. Every year, to compliment its locally grown, regionally appropriate seed selections, the HVSL commissions local artists to produce original art for its art packs. The artwork has become an event of its own, an annual exhibit called The Art of The Heirloom, which was featured at The Philadelphia Flower Show and is currently on display at the Horticultural Society of New York till March 28.
The art packs employ an eclectic range of mediums: everything from paintings and illustrations to collage, ceramics, textiles, cut paper, etchings, mosaic, and wood. The style ranges from elegant to whimsical and all points in between. There's bonus art along with more details about the artists and the seeds on the inside of each pack. The packs are lovingly designed and printed, so that you can use them for decoupage or other arts and crafts projects.
Now in its 10th year -- and, as of last year, certified organic, hooray! -- the HVSL has inspired dozens of similar endeavors around the country, so that gardeners everywhere can find open-pollinated, non-GMO seeds that are native to their neck of the woods. And because one of the HVSL's primary missions is to inspire more people to start gardening and learn how to save seeds, their website offers plenty of helpful info and inspiration.
Last year, when planting season rolled around, I couldn't find the time to plant any seedlings along my front fence the way I usually do. On a whim, I grabbed a couple of HVSL seed packets I'd received as a gift: Sulphur Cosmos, and State Fair Zinnia.
It only took 10 minutes to scatter those seeds, but I basked in their reflective glory for months. The cosmos and zinnias started blooming their heads off in late spring and didn't stop until fall gave way to winter. All summer long, whenever I sat on my porch, people walking by would say "I love your flowers!" Lots of others drove by and smiled.
It may seem like a trivial thing, but knowing that so many people were enjoying all those flowers cheered me up at a time when I was mourning the unexpected death of a young nephew. People are like plants; some of us flourish while others flounder. We all start out as seeds and end up as compost. Ideally, somewhere along the way we get to bloom and bear fruit, and bring some joy into this world. I rejoice every spring that I can count on the HVSL to provide me not only with the seeds I need to do that, but with their backstory, their cultural significance, and a thoughtful graphic to accompany the actual seeds.
So, this year, in my nephew's memory, I'll scatter the seeds of the HVSL's Marigold Medley in front of my fence. I learned from the HSVL's seed packet that the marigold was the Aztec symbol of death, and is used to this day to decorate graves and altars. Dia de Los Meuertos festivals employ garlands and crosses made from thousands of marigold petals, and pathways are lined with the bright orange blossoms. The festivities also feature rows of cut paper banners called papel picado, which provided the inspiration for the exquisite artwork by paper cut artist Jenny Lee Fowler that graces the cover of the Marigold Medley art pack. As the text inside the seed packet notes, it's a tribute to "the celebration of life and death which plays out in our gardens every year." And in our lives, too.
Cross-posted from CivilEats