Wednesday 7 March 2012

Seed Store, Book Store


Last week I undertook the annual task of cleaning out all my seed trays ready for this year's planting.

I promise myself at the end of each growing year after having spent months planting, tending, sharing and worrying about hundreds of young plants that I'll only 'pop a few seeds in' next time.

Perhaps just some sunflowers, tomatoes, cosmos and 'wild Oaxaca marigolds' (or 'Cemps' as I call them, short for Cempoalxochitl, which means 'flower of the dead' in Nahuatl). Easy, and light on my back.

But the winter comes and the memory of bending over hundreds of flowerpots always subsides. I always forget that the tiny seeds in my hand will grow quite as big as they will and that they will require me to be there - a lot. So come February in they start to go and carry on going in over the next few months - cosmos, Mexican sunflowers, heavenly blues, basils, nasturtiums, tobaccos, anise hyssops, Mexican hyssops...

Last year I planted several hundred chia (Salvia hispanica) seeds just for the hell of it thinking that none would come up... every single one of them came up! And grew and grew until the one in the conservatory reached over seven feet and bloomed in November with its incredible bright blue flowers.

The problem is I love seeds! I love collecting them, planting them, giving them away, sending them to friends through the post. Plants can bring people together and allow for conversations that might never happen otherwise. And it's brilliant being in Transition because of all the seed and seedling swaps, the community gardens and all the other people who are into plants and the whole ethos of give and grow.

I also love having somewhere to go beyond my own private garden to swap and plant plants and have those conversations. It was in this spirit that I organised the monthly Plants for Life talks, walks and workshops on medicine plants this year at the Library Community Garden in Bungay. The garden's central bed will feature some of those plants throughout the year. The response so far has been amazing, with many more people coming to the events than I'd expected.

This year I'm growing more Chia, some of them bound for Jeremy at Grapes Hill Community Garden, where The Low Carbon Cookbook will have a small corner for 'superfood' plants. I've already sown some Amaranth and these will grow alongside the goji berry Charlotte wrote about yesterday.

I'm excited to see what happens with the deep purple sunflower seeds in the picture. The parents of the plants that produced these seeds were a dark sunflower and a light one. I was quite shocked when I first saw the flowers last year and wrote about them here. I came to really love them and they lasted all summer.

You see the power of seeds? Once you get into them and the plants that grow from them they can take over your life. So just one more for the road (or ground) today: Wild Tomato Columbianum. Donated to the Heritage Seed Library by a woman called Nancy Arrowsmith in Arizona and found at the annual seedswap in Walberswick.

Don't know how wild they are but I love the name!


This week is about books as well as seeds and I would like to recommend one that has held my interest to the degree that I keep it by my bed and I've read several of the pieces in it more than once - which is rare for me these days.

It's called Dark Mountain Issue 2 and is a collection of essays, poetry, stories and illustrations on the theme of the 'end of the world as we know it'. But rather than being apocalyptic or scaremongering and at the same time resisting didacticism or any kind of fix-it approach, the book expresses a diverse cultural response to the multiple collapse scenarios which are currently being played out in our civilisation: environmental, economic and social. A head-on look at the cultural myths and narratives we tell ourselves.

The writers and artists contributing to this book include small farmers in the US, environmental journalists and academics in recovery, and Dartmoor painters. If I had to have a favourite piece, it would probably be (at the moment anyway) writing professor John Rember's Consensus and Other Realities, not least because I relate to being up in the dark early hours of winter grappling with various scenarios not always pleasant.

In this post which is serious and funny at once, Rember revisits 'dead British psychiatrist' RD Laing, who said we create false selves 'to satisfy the demands of family and culture' and how these false selves alienate us not just from our real self but from nature as well. Rember then looks at the 'false self' of technological civilisation and the 'false story that backs it up' - the meta-narrative. Considering meta-narratives is a theme that runs throughout the book, whether the writers are talking about language itself or considering the true story of the 'Luddites'.

For a book that looks at uncertainty and loss on such a large scale and so directly, Dark Mountain Issue 2 does not leave me depressed. Rather the result is liberating, as if energy that's been bound up in maintaining illusions and pretense can be released and put to other uses.

Dark Mountain is different from Transition in many ways, but there's one effect on me that both movements have in common: I don't feel on my own in facing up to systemic collapse.

Pics: 2012 seeds on reused trays and Give and Take baking tray; 2011 Chias sprouting; Wild Columbian Tomatoes at Walberswick seed swap; Deep purple sunflower seeds and seed packets; Dark Mountain Issue 2 cover by Rima Staines

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