seed shopping with a friend: a new book excerpt, and invitation to learn, and shop, together

ordering seedsNEXT WEEKEND I’M HOSTING a really seedy event, where expert guests will teach us about heirlooms, and seed starting and saving, and then—hooray!—we’ll all shop madly together from two great sellers. That last bit—seed shopping together—got me thinking about my friend Tod (that’s our combined mess of catalogs on his dining table, above) and also about a little passage in my recent book, “The Backyard Parables.” I thought I’d share the excerpt here, with an invite to get in on the togetherness March 23.

book excerpt:
friends in seed (why i’ll never shop alone)

IN SOME THINGS lonerism backfires, like when the ladder needs steadying to get at the top of an errantly sprouting espalier, or a truckload of eight cubic yards of mulch is dumped by the far gate. Though ordering seeds is not heavy work, it is best not done alone, either; I have always had a companion for the task. My latest one, of considerable years’ duration, got it in his head to move to Oregon recently, for greener garden pastures, taking with him not just the in-person dimension of our friendship, but also access to the nearby greenhouse that was, of course, a perfect complement to the shopping we did together all that time.

“I’ll buy the tomato seeds if you’ll grow them,” the conversation with Andrew would always begin, as if he needed my ten- or fifteen-dollar annual enticement, when of course we never really paid careful mind to who bought what or really kept a running tab of our years-long botanical barter. It hardly mattered; what counted was the chance to look together, to compare notes, to react collaboratively to the possibilities—ooh! aah! ugh!—and eventually to relish the harvest (or to commiserate when something was a flop and there was no harvest, or to split the yield if only one of us got lucky). It was like one of those dinners out where you share two entrées. Delicious, and far more stimulating to the palate than supper alone at the bar.

I don’t get out much. But when I do, it’s usually because someone has been persistent, demonstrating more “pro” energy than I can muster “con,” typically over a prolonged period. Tod was like this, relentlessly and delightfully so. Thank heaven for the world’s Tods; may all sentient beings be visited by one when they are despairing, stuck, or overwhelmed—or when their seed-ordering companion has flown the coop.

He had arrived in my garden a few springs back, as many strangers do, on an open visiting day, with enthusiasm so contagious that I’d offered plants if he’d come back for them, since it was revealed he’s a close-by neighbor. He e-mailed, returned, and he went away again with garbage bags of Geranium macrorhizum rhizomes and who knows what else—one woman’s trash bag holding another man’s treasure. I was even invited some time later to see my outcasts’ new adopted home, where they looked very happy but more than that: where I had a sighting of that precious but lately-for-me-elusive state of beginner’s mind. It was not because the garden looked beginner-ish at all—it was the spirit of the place, and of the gardener. As we walked around, I remembered the young woman who’d worked each weekend tirelessly, filled with eagerness and free of preconceptions, happy just to toil and try things—everything—and see what came of it.

In the visits since, he has told me of his own rites of garden passage: how weeds were the first reality check (especially for a weekend gardener, as he is now), and how the stage that followed was one of exploration—tentative, perhaps—before the letting go began with moving stuff around, suddenly unafraid whether it will die or not, releasing that presumed rather-safe- than-sorry form of exerting influence.

RECENTLY, we sat at his kitchen table surrounded by laptops and our two piles of paper catalogs and his big, orderly box of leftover seed packets.

“I’m going to get tomato seeds from that heirloom-tomato guy in Carmel, California—or whichever place has ‘Pink Accordion’,” he said across the heaps in my direction, and I was startled that both halves of that out-loud equation were unknown to me.

“What guy in Carmel?” I said, “and what is ‘Pink Accordion’?” Unwittingly by either party at the table, another session of horticultural therapy was being performed on this tired old soul. Apparently at my grown-up age it is not just safe, but also terribly sane, to talk to strangers.

Never stop wanting more plants. That mantra of mine suddenly came to mind. With the occasional glimpse of the garden through eyes like Tod’s that are fresh to possibilities, perhaps there is a chance I won’t.

(From “The Backyard Parables,” copyright © 2013 by Margaret Roach. All rights reserved. Read the preface excerpt if you haven’t yet, or learn more about the book.)

shop, learn, grow from seed march 23!

JOIN ME and other garden friends (including Tod, from the excerpt above) for an afternoon of seed-shopping, learning and fun on Saturday, March 23, in Copake, New York, 2:00-5:30 PM; ticket sales to benefit a local greening and preservation organization.

In his talk “Heirloom Gardening From Seed to Seed,” Ken Greene of Hudson Valley Seed Library will showcase our gardening heritage, then moving into the present, we’ll learn about easy, beautiful, and tasty heirlooms to grow at home, with simple tips for growing, harvesting, and saving seed.

Seed from Seed Library and from Turtle Tree Seed will be for sale, and experts from both (plus me!) will be on hand to answer questions, and to show-and-tell seed-starting tricks. Hillsdale General Store will sell other garden goodies. Come with your shopping list, and questions; bring the family! Tickets here.

  1. SandyG says:

    What a wonderful friendship! And the sentiment “Never stop wanting more plants” really hits home. I’ve recently moved from a place I had lived for 30 years and miss my gardens terribly. This new place is barren in comparison and I need plants, but the budget won’t allow a lot of expenditure on them. So I’m coveting plants in friends and neighbors yards and being bold enough to ask for divisions. My idea of an ideal plant is one in the pass-along category that can be shared by others and then by myself as well. One of the great things about gardening is the friends you make along the way.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Margaret-I visited when Gayla gave a class in your studio, but I cannot remember….Is your asian pear attached to or supported by anything against your house?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Stephanie. When it was first planted, and young/more flexible, it was “wired” to the house in a few spots with coated wire on eye hooks, just so the flexible young branches wouldn’t whip around. Now it’s so sturdy, it’s no longer attached. The trunk is fairly close to the house, by the way.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Thank you. I may be pushing it, but I’m planning on putting two espaliered Kieffer pears against our house in the strip of earth that is just 20″ wide along the 35′ driveway. Wish me luck.

  4. Diana Pappas says:

    My brother and I share seeds every year, and sometimes an extra tomato or chili pepper seedling changes hands too. We’ve discovered that chili peppers grow to be much spicier in my garden than in his!

    p.s. The pink accordion tomato looks fabulous! I’m up to my ears in tomato varieties to try this year, but next year…. perhaps!

  5. Pam Gardner says:

    we sound like our personalities are similar, I wish I had a Tod or could come to your seed buy-but alas, I live too many hrs. away. I will eagerly await a post and want to hear about it all. I have never bought seeds but have not had very good luck with my plants the last 2 yrs. so am thinking about it-and there is so much to choose from. I need a mentor!

  6. ann says:

    Oh well, when one moves one, new one moves in. Many of us play solitaire for a while until new companion stops by the garden gate wondering if he will be chosen.

  7. Donna B. says:

    What a lovely little exerpt from your book! I am a loner, and usually do my seed/gardening planning and ordering on my own… but how great it would be to have a friend with me! But your books look like something I have something to add to my digital-book collection very very soon!
    And I’m sad that I missed you at Springfest at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in NJ this past weekend! I wanted to go Saturday… unfortunately the person I was taking with me had to attend to something in the morning, so we went on Sunday instead… [plus, it snowed! :O]

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks for the nice comment, Donna, and sorry to miss you Saturday, too. Maybe you will come to an event here this season, in the garden!

  8. Rodney says:

    Great idea! Haven’t ventured out in doing the seed swap or shopping with friends. Have an uncle who try’s something new each year and usually sends me some seeds via mail. Hop your speaking engagement went well Margaret!

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