By the seeds

From Alaska to faraway Virginia, the flowers I enjoy today came from seeds a friend sent to me months ago. Alexandria, April 2015

From faraway Alaska to our Virginia home, the flowers we enjoy today
came from seeds a friend sent to us months ago. Alexandria, April 2015

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

Spring is a time of anticipation and reward, but it also can be a time of impatience, when the weather is moody and unpredictable, and some of our plants don’t bloom as quickly as we wish they would.  Spring is the perfect time to reflect on the truth of Stevenson’s words about the wisdom of focusing on planting instead of harvest.

All of us love to see quick results and successful finishes, but most of life just doesn’t go that way.  Things take time, and we are surrounded by media images that speed things up to the point that we may buy into an unreasonable degree of expectation about how long we should be kept waiting.

Moreover, results depend on many factors that are beyond our control.  Weather, soil condition, pests and the genetics of the seeds themselves all influence our harvest.  One of the first things gardening taught me is the realization that a large percentage of what I plant will not turn out the way I hope it will.  And, except for our years on the central coast of California, it has been rare for me to succeed at growing anything from seeds.

The photo above is a favorite exception.  Jena, who has been with us here at this blog for over two years now, has been especially thoughtful to send me little treats from her travels and from her fascinating home state of Alaska.  Back in mid-2014 she sent me some seeds for Alaskan plants, including the state flower, the Forget-Me-Not.  I promptly planted some and was surprised and excited when they quickly became healthy seedlings.

Because I feared the young plants would freeze, I brought some indoors in pots during the fall, and left three planted outdoors.  As they lay under several inches of snow two months ago, I doubted they would survive.  But when the snow melted away, they sprung back to life almost immediately.  In fact, they are doing much better than the ones I kept indoors and transplanted back outside a couple of weeks ago.  It reminded me of our discussion here about the benefits of snow for insulation and fertilization.

On a recent morning when I had returned from Atlanta the previous evening, I went out on the patio to check on them.  Wow! They had doubled in size and were covered with lovely blue flowers.  It made my day to see them, knowing they grew from tiny seeds that had been sent my way across many miles, literally from one corner of North America to the other.  What a fun surprise!

I don’t remember much about the day I planted those seeds.  It was likely a typical day, one in which I got a few things accomplished, but felt there was much more still to be done.  If I could go back in time several months and show myself the photo above, I might have gotten quite a boost out of knowing that some of what was accomplished that day wasn’t immediately obvious.

Likewise, the day Jena bought those seeds to send to me, she could not have known how, several months later, there would be a rainy spring morning when the sight of their rapid growth would provide me with a burst of joyful surprise on a day when I was in need of cheer.  Though she would not be present to see the harvest of her actions, she focused on the seeds, and I hope she felt at least a small sense of accomplishment on the day she packed them along with the other surprises in the package she sent my way.

When I was prowling around for a link to post for Stevenson with his quote, I discovered something I had forgotten; he died at the age of 44, which seems tragically young to me.  He never lived to see the continuing harvest of joy that his words have brought to people of all ages for over a century.  I am comforted to think that perhaps he realized his life’s work consisted of planting seeds in faith that they would bear a harvest beyond what he might have dared to imagine. I hope we can all be inspired to remember his vision and do likewise.

Seeds from Jena 2014back of seed packet from Jena 2014


  1. Forget-Me-Nots are one of my favourite wildflowers Julia. I love them for their tenacity, their abundant growth, beautiful colour and willingness to consider any bare patch their home! I have walked in forests carpeted with them and been dizzy with the wonderfulness of it! I am so glad to read this post and hear they brought you some cheer when you were in need of it. I didn’t know they are the state flower of Alaska – well chosen I should think given that states climate!

    I received a beautiful card and message from you this morning – which quite made my day!

    • Pauline, given the hardy nature of the Forget-Me-Not, it does seem an appropriate flower for Alaska. They are even taller now than when I made that photo. Glad you liked the card! Incidentally, the pansies you all left with me are looking glorious. I’ll have to send you some photos soon.

  2. Cherie

    What beautiful flowers and the sentiment in the way you received them! I love flowers but am having some trouble finding ones that will bloom under all my live oaks and pines here in Florida. I am going to try an asparagus fern. I had one before and they bloom cute little white flowers and the red berries. I pray you and your guys are all enjoying this spring.

    I think of all of you often. May your days be blessed with Blooms. Love. Cherie

    • Cherie, can you grow Azaleas in that part of Florida? They usually love to be under the pines, but I’m not sure whether the live oak would be a problem. Live Oak trees are splendid, though. It’s the state tree of Georgia, where I grew up. I haven’t heard of an asparagus fern but I love ferns, so I will look it up. We need some more shade-loving plants at our York home. I think of you often too, always with a prayer for your health & happiness. Thanks for being here!

  3. Aww. Yeah for blooming things and bursts of joy. These grow in the wild quite profusely here and survive our snowy winters every year. 😉

    • I wish you could see them; they are even bigger now than when I took the photo. Jeff mentioned recently how striking they are. What a lovely reminder of you to greet me each morning!

  4. Lovely, Julia, all of it. xox

    • Thank you Alys! You are an avid gardener so I know you understand that special joy when something does well, seemingly against all odds.

  5. Michael

    Also Scott Fitzgerald at 44 of acute alcohol poisoning I think, while Stephenson succumbed to T.B. Very sad. Reading -Hemingway- “A Moveable Feast” all about his time with Fitzgerald and Stein in Paris at the beginning of his writing life. Here is a line I culled by Hemingway that I think it pretty awesome.” When the cold rains kept on and killed spring, it was like the death of a young person for no reason.” Something like that. Good read.

    Problem is- what constitutes planting a seed and how do you know you have planted one?
    Leave Thursday for NYC- then Atlanta.

    • Michael, A Moveable Feast has been on my to-be-read list for some time; perhaps it’s time to “move” it nearer to the top. It sounds as if you will be coming to Atlanta around the time we will be leaving there. Your question is an interesting and fairly profound one. I think planting seeds is usually intentional, although not always so (especially if one is a bird, hee-hee). AND, we don’t always know when we have planted them, and certainly don’t know which will bear fruit. I think the big point overall is not to be dependent on seeing results for any good thing that we may do. If we take positive steps each day and act in ways that are likely to bear good fruit rather than bad, we can go to sleep in peace and not obsess about outcomes. Having said that, if we consistently see bad outcomes from our efforts, it’s probably a red flag we should heed.

  6. Wonderful post, Julia.
    The great golfer, Walter Hagen once said of playing golf: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry and don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

    • Thanks Alan, those are words to remember!

  7. Amy

    They are beautiful. I still need a lot of help in my yard. Love to you. A

    • Amy, I have a few seeds left – you can try them in some of the shady areas when I come see you! Love to you too.

  8. Cherie

    Julia, I have 3 big beautiful azaleas, but they only bloom for 2 or 3 weeks. I love hostas so I am going to put some of those in. Have a great evening!

    • Cherie, I love hostas too! But the rabbits and squirrels love them more, evidently. We had gorgeous hostas in Memphis while Jeff was in school; they grew bigger each year and flowered beautifully. But we’ve tried everything at York to keep them from getting eaten up (to many different attempts to mention) and finally gave up on them. I hope you will have better luck!

  9. I wonder if almost every human interaction that we have plants a seed; some small, some large, some grow beautifully, some become noxious weeds? Perhaps we can choose to plant with intention, as once planted, we have little control over what will grow?

    • Susan, I think there is truth in everything you said. I believe our actions, even seemingly small ones, can have consequences far beyond what we imagine. Kelly (aka Boomdee) was sharing with me a story of a young girl she had helped one night at the grocery store. I told her “you changed that girl’s life” and I really believe it. I know there have been times in my life when people did things for me that felt heroic to me but seemed small to them — yet the influence of the kindness they showed has been with me all of my life since. It’s sad to realize that not all of the seeds we plant are good ones. I know there have been times when I’ve made someone’s day worse instead of better. Still, as you say, the intention is powerful and we are promised that the harvest will not fail, even if we never see it firsthand.

  10. Julia, this is such a sweet post today. Friendship and happiness bound together by seeds that crossed the miles, so lovely. Today, looking around my yard, I had a pot that I’d been avoiding that “called” me over. It was dried and pathetic and it’s once beautiful camellia blooms were long gone. It pulled at my heartstrings because it was an arrangement from my mom’s passing in 2011. I knew it was hopeless. That’s when I spotted the tiny green leaves trying to push through the protecting weeds. This special plant was so close to being discarded. It’s now being given another chance to thrive. 🌸 I’m just way too sentimental but the Good Lord makes certain people that way. We do have that in common. Your words are always inspiring to me! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I love that you are sentimental! My personal belief is that everyone, or most everyone, starts out that way, but life sometimes teaches us to toughen up and put on a good front or even grow harder in heart. I think this is especially true for men, though I hope that is changing somewhat. In any case, I truly hope that your camellia will bloom again. I have seen plants that I gave up for dead, come back to life and look better than I would have believed. Re: being overly sentimental — I realize that being sensitive and caring means that life hurts more at times, but it also is more wonderful and beautiful to the heart that remains open and kind despite the sorrows. Though I’ve often thought otherwise, deep down I know that I would not want to be any other way. I’m sure you wouldn’t either! Just one more thing that draws us together. Thank you for your continual encouragement! Love, J ❤

  11. Michael

    Any restaurant recommendations? I heard Flying Biscuit is good. You probably heard Chick Fil-A is a big hit in Seattle- two new stores. That had to hire more security to help with the parking and neighbors are complaining of customers parking on their lawns. Big hit. Have not been up there yet.
    Atlanta must have a children’s museum right? Thinking of stuff to do with Nora. I hope to get out to Emory this time. Never made it out there last time.

    • I’m not familiar with the Flying Biscuit, but I am not surprised Chick Fil A is a hit in Seattle. They have a unique taste and some really yummy products. Their fresh-squeezed lemonade and iced teas are wonderful. I would guess there is a children’s museum in Atlanta, though Fernbank Science Center is the only one I can remember going to. You might want to take Nora to the World of Coca-Cola. Even though I never drink soft drinks, I had fun going there and tasting all the different flavors. This was back in 1994, though, so I don’t know what it might be like today. If you do make it over to Emory, check out the mummies and other Egyptian antiquities at the museum there. Hope you have a great time!

  12. I’ve always liked that quote. Love the flowers. I have a couple of envelopes of forget me not seeds waiting to get planted. Gardening is so meditative that I’m looking forward to it myself.

    • Good luck with your Forget-me-not seeds! If I can get them to grow, probably anyone can, although a lot has to do with weather and soil conditions and other things we can’t control. I agree that gardening is conducive to meditation. I also like to listen to books on tape when I work in the yard. Wishing you a lovely season in your garden!

  13. Michael

    Leaving the 19th for Atlanta from NYC.

    • We’ll be long gone by then, but the weather will still be nice.

  14. Michael

    In terms of planting seeds, I know one thing I could do is give out more compliments. They are not that expensive. In terms of actual gardening I seem to plant more flowers each year, rather than vegetables with fewer edible results, but more visible pleasures. Who knew.

    • Michael, that’s a good point about compliments. I find that making an effort to give SINCERE and heartfelt compliments is a great practice, because it helps me learn to see good things that I might otherwise miss. Pretty much everyone has traits worthy of admiration when we look closely enough to see them. I’ve always tended toward growing flowers because I have not had that much luck with fruits and vegetables, but the few times I’ve been able to harvest home-grown tomatoes have been WONDERFUL and worth any number of blooms. But one good thing about flower gardening is that flowers can be enjoyed by everyone who passes by, whereas only those who eat vegetables or fruits can really enjoy them.

  15. Enjoyed my visit this morning Julia. You write so well, with thoughtfulness and insight. The planting analogy reminded me of that country song again. I might have mentioned it before. They sing about life being a garden, where bitter seeds are planted hearts harden but a caring hand makes the harvest sweet. It’s a song about a young mans daddy, he remembers him being so in love with his family that he took a little extra time and looked forward to a bountiful harvest. When you think about it, we’re always tending a garden. Whether it be a marriage or valued friendships, they’re all that much sweeter when cared for with a tender heart. Have a beautiful day J. I just saw on my morning news that Washington is forecast 29 C/84 F with thunderstorms 😀 fun! xox k

    • Hi K, we’re not in DC now but we did have some very warm days there and I really enjoyed it. I love that thought, that we are always tending a garden. It’s inspiring but also a bit scary considering I sometimes trample on the seedlings without intending to. Luckily most of us manage to see a beautiful harvest even with our mistakes. Hope you are having a lovely week! Thanks for making the time to be here. ❤

  16. Beautiful. Julia you must have a green thumb!! ❤

    • Thanks Merry, I definitely don’t have a green thumb, but sometimes I get lucky. Maybe there was an extra dose of health in those seeds because they were sent and received with such good will. Hope you are doing well!

  17. bobmielke

    I was recently reminded of your words today when I decided to try out Etsy, a shopping experience much like The biggest difference is that they deal with a lot of tiny merchants who just make a handful of items. I love crafts so I decided to pick something that interests me and put in a test order.

    It was for handmade tiny clay figurine from a man living in the Philippines. I ordered 4 of his miniatures for a total of just over $20 including postage. That was April 19, 2015. I’ve written to him once already to try and pin down a shipping date. He said he has been in the hospital with the flu and would get to my order ASAP. It’s now the first week in May an no word when I will receive my order. I don’t want to bug him again because he is a one man show and is probably working like crazy trying to fill his orders. I decided to have patience as this is not a mass produced item and most assuredly this man is counting on the income to provide for his family.

    Your words struck home in my situation because I’m accustomed to buying from and getting an instant respose with a confirmed shipping date. Since I know the items I ordered from this one man show I had to take a deep breath and put my impatience on the back burner. It’s not critical that I get these items instantly. They are photographic subjects for my macro work. I’ll give him a chance to get his life back together after an illness.

    • Bob, I so enjoyed reading about your ordering the miniatures on Etsy. I can’t wait to see your photos of them. I think Etsy has become so popular because many of us find great joy in one-of-a-kind handmade items. It’s true that we are conditioned to be impatient about such things, what with two day shipping, and electronic downloading of books and music, and digital photos we see instantly, and so on. But perhaps waiting for something can increase the joy we get when we receive it. Thanks for sharing with us about this experience. I hope that more of us will be inspired to seek out and enjoy the work of individual artists who will never get rich from their creativity, but still make the world a better place.

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