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Very Big and Very Small

by | Nov 24, 2020 | Voices of Davidson

The day after COVID took root back in February, I planted some seeds. They were a favorite, zinnias. Not only had I always loved their riotous color, but they were a flower my mother and I had grown when she was a new mom, in her first garden, and I was no more than five or six.

I stumbled upon the zinnia packet in a laundry room cupboard, while looking for a ball of string. I had been saving them to plant with my granddaughter, Emily, but now it just seemed right to hasten their birth. I put the planter in a sheltered area of our back veranda and watched and waited and sprinkled…for nothing.

As an inexperienced and horribly impatient gardener who had once killed the fool proof Chia Pet, I had not fully read the seed packet or even Googled germination times on the web. Always focused on immediate results, it was excruciating to realize that nature took its own course, and not mine.

So, as I waited, I planted more seeds. Just like a kindergartener, I saved an avocado pit, stuck toothpicks in the sides and plopped it in some water. I also bought some fresh rosemary sprigs from Whole Foods, groomed them a bit and then placed them in a glass, along with a few branches from a dormant hydrangea.

In March, as virus stats continued to soar, I saved a few lemon seeds and guided by a YouTube clip, tried to jump start germination by placing them between wet paper towels, then a baggie and finally storing them above the fridge. I tried the same steps with salvaged bell pepper innards. Much to my delight, tiny offshoots quickly emerged from these makeshift Handi Wrap greenhouses. I gathered up all the old, galvanized tubs I could find in the garage and planted these newborns in soil for my first ever herb garden.

By April, spring had warmed the south and although I hesitated to leave the yard due to quarantine, I could easily order more gardening ammunition through Amazon. My new seeds began arriving within a week—basil, cilantro, violas, poblano peppers, and even more zinnias.

Each morning, even before coffee and especially the news, I headed to my little cluster of pots, inspecting the dirt for some minute spec of green. A dose of hope and growth…maybe even a miracle or two.

One day, the first zinnia sprout made its way toward the sun. A month later, an intrepid root pierced the bottom of the avocado pit. And all the while, a row of spunky basil seedlings began to green up a tray of leftover peat pods.

While doing battle with ingenious and famished squirrels and birds throughout May, I escaped into gardening columns and products on line. Boxes of chicken wire, sheets of metal fencing, and rolls of plastic mesh came to my rescue outside our front door—a stab at shoring up vulnerabilities in lieu of scarecrows, plastic owls, tin foil, electronic water devices, or hideous potions of pigs’ blood.

At one point, my wooden bucket of tomatoes was actually dubbed “the jail.” For all its protective hardware, you could barely see the plants inside. And with little sun filtering through, while the critters got no chance at fruit, neither did I.

Gradually, as if in a slow-mo replay, I began to take one day at a time. Readjusting, fine tuning and sometimes just letting go when nature prevailed. I couldn’t travel, eat out, visit friends, attend classes, go to the gym, or venture anywhere past our small neighborhood cul-de-sac. But what I could do is plant and then sometimes plant again!

By June, my first born, the zinnias, hit center stage in a roar of blooming color. Fragrant and lush basil came next (Thai outmuscling Italian), with peppers lagging behind. While I only eked out two sprouting peppers out of a hundred seeds planted, those odds seemed surprisingly acceptable during a period of modified expectations.

Today, as I walk my garden eight months into lockdown, with cooler November temps and dwindling light, I notice late-blooming violas leading the charge while my original babies, the early birds, transition into mulch for next year.

What is it with all these seeds, I ask myself? While my daily preoccupation (and news diet) is bigger and more global than it has ever been—politics, the virus, the recession—I have gone small in the most miniaturized way.

My husband suspects it is symbolic of planting seeds for the future. Maybe so. But I like to think it is so much simpler.

Grasping for meaning, momentum, growth in a time of confusion, retrenchment, even death, the seeds gave me hope, life, and an outlet for nurturing. Still do. I know I will forever be a different, more sensitive, and passionate gardener after this year of self-taught horticulture. And for that, I am grateful.

But more importantly, I hope to lose some impatience along the way. Notice slivers of details. Learn what makes each life flourish; then feed it.

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey

Andrea Nordstrom Caughey is a magazine editor and lifelong writer who hit the jackpot moving to Davidson from California.

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