Updated: May 26, 2021
I walked into the Garden Department of my local box store and there they were: Burpee seeds
for arugula, carrots, and string beans and so many more––a farm-variety of seeds. My mother-in-law used to plant watermelon, collard greens and string beans from these packs in the lush soil by her home in North Carolina. My people have a peculiar relationship with seeds. Under duress, my ancestors, soil people themselves, were forced to prepare another’s soil, till another’s and and plant another’s seeds.
So, given the opportunity, many fled from toiling grounds to urban centers, to apply their talents
in soils of their own choosing. During the first wave of migration, they found themselves in other’s kitchens, factories, slaughterhouses, low paying menial jobs, but they paid for food and shelter. Now we flock to transportation, boardrooms, classrooms, offices and medical arenas etc.
We’ve lost contact with the soil, that organic matter of silt and clay, as essential for life as air and water. Some even recoil from it, yet we long for what it can produce. Besides the foods we eat, when the sun is high and the air warms, there is something about the color, shape and even the aroma of flowers that compels us who live in northern regions to rely on the very thing
our ancestors had fled.
Even if we know from the first chapter in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, “There
were no marigolds in the fall of 1941” because soil rebelled against injustice. But when that moment in time arrives when the stone of winter is removed from its tomb, “when a young man’s fancies turn to thoughts of love,” we depend on the power of the seed to nurture our eyes and our souls. Preparation is needed for the seed to become itself. The soil requires the proper nutrients and moisture.
In the Book Of John, there is the 'Parable Of The Sower', a great spiritual lesson about the farmer who went out to sow seeds. I guess he wasn’t too careful about where he placed his seeds. He spread his seed out on many surfaces, but only the seed that flourished fell on “good soil”, where it reproduced itself one hundred, sixty or thirty times.” When seeds are not in their proper environment, they will die. To succeed, good seed must be placed in good soil.
Good soil feeds the seed so it can evolve into the flower it was meant to be. It needs just the right moisture, just the right nutrients and just the right heat. Different seeds require different intensities of each of those components. Too much water can drown the seed, or too much heat can dry it out. Not enough air can suffocate it. Improper levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients, can starve the seed or produce a weakened seed.
Once the proper components penetrate the coat of the seed, what’s inside expands. The coat becomes too small for the root and the shoot. The root anchors the plant to its environment and drinks lavishly from the moisture feeding the shoot, until it is strong enough to penetrate the soil.
Linda Michelle Baron told us that flowers have to be “petted by the sun, fed by the earth, refreshed by the rain, and protected by The Maker.” Seeds and bulbs eventually respond to their nurturing conditions
I wanted those red geraniums, pink zinnias, and yellow marigolds kissing the sun from a flower
bed, or pot in front of my home. I toiled in my small plot of soil preparing it to receive the seed I
wanted to plant. First I aerated, turning the soil over and loosening any earth packed hard by rain
and maybe feet. By giving air to the soil, it would be more receptive to new seed, and allow
seedlings to burst through the skin and find a home for its roots.
Transforming a small plot into good soil is work!
Our work as caretakers continues; the fragile new growth is fragile. It is on its way, but it has not yet arrived to what it is going to be. We must protect it from bugs that may be attracted to its leaves, and from weeds that can strangle roots and nurturance. Consistent vigilance is required. And if you give them extra, like singing to them like the 'Plant Keeper' in that well-known TV commercial, they may just give you that extra love back.
Returning to the soil provided time for me to slow down and reflect about other matters buried beneath the busyness of my life. Just like the weeds attempted to strangle the very seed I had planted, I had other weeds to pull. Gardening gave me a chance to think about that which is unwanted and how to protect the growth from other weeds and even cigarette butts and soda cans.
One day the growth I sought did appear. Red flowers bloomed, tempting passing school children.
Many succumbed and took a red petal on their way home from school. The theft deprived my pot
of the blossoms' beauty, and I was disheartened.
One warm and sunny afternoon, my neighbor who lived across the street stopped by while I was working in the garden. “I love looking out of my window in the morning just to see your beautiful flowers,” she said.
She gave me reason to pause. When the seeds in my garden had grown to full bloom, they did
just as intended, and I had grown with them. I had grown to understand I wasn’t just planting for
my own satisfaction. I was bringing joy to someone’s else’s morning and maybe erasing a bad
school day for somebody else. Through my delicate labor of love, I was planting seeds of joy in the lives of others. Then came the spiritual epiphany––planted in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, I was the seed that was still becoming herself.