Good sense goes to seed

A sower went forth to sow....

I only have to look at the horizontal surfaces in my study, the kitchen, the garage, my plot shed, to reconfirm an old conviction: Except for the annual tender-brained dreams and perennial foolhardy optimism of plotters like me, the seed-sellers of the world would be a lot less rich. Said surfaces are literally mulched with seed packets.

I have - naturally - ordered far too many. If they all germinate, they'll burst the bounds of my ground and invade Red's country, and Jim's land, and Linda's patch, and Ian's wilderness.

Part of my excuse for this profligacy is what Jimmy Hughes correctly classifies as our "incredibly short growing season" in Glasgow. We have months to twiddle our thumbs before daring to sow any seeds.

But at least we can enliven the interim by buying them. And buying them. Reams of seed-packets wallpaper garden centers and wee shops and supermarkets. And there are burgeoning numbers of seed catalogs. All irresistible.

"Better make sure I have enough peas," you mutter, and "I must get parsley before it sells out," and "I want much more dill this year," and "I think I'd like to give kohlrabi a try," and "What's this? A golden sort of beet?"

And thus we merrily confuse need and greed.

Seed packets insinuate themselves (it's nothing to do with me) into our home over the endless winter weeks, in carriers and wrappings and bags. ("How on earth did these get in there?" he inquires innocently.) More and yet more they appear: Mr. Fothergill's broad beans, Suttons salsify, Marshalls fen-bred leeks, Dobies celery, Unwins lettuce, Johnsons radishes....

Seeds fly in by mail from friends: a hand-inscribed tiny envelope of red chard from the Visiting Artist; poppies from Anne's garden; pink turnip seed over the barbed wire from Red; sweet williams free with a copy of Garden News brought down to the plots by Linda. Then there's an order of rare and wonderful seeds under the appealingly snobbish label "Plants of Distinction," and a selection of six obsolescent vegetable varieties from the Henry Doubleday Foundation (great promoters of biodiversity and guardians of threatened hybrids).

And now, finally, just as I sit down to write this, flopping through the front door with a delectably promising jiggle, my main order from Suffolk Herbs in a lightly padded envelope.

Alec the postman's timing is faultless, as usual. Keenly I abandon the computer to open the envelope, but - help! - one of the packets must have split open! Small, round ochre seeds spill out uncontrollably.

I recognize this seed. It belongs to childhood, to mine and countless others in Britain. It is mustard-and-cress seed.

OF ALL THE seeds that appeal to kids, mustard-and-cress sprinkled on a wet flannel on a plate are the most rewarding.

Not only do they sprout like lightning, you can almost watch them grow. And then, in only a few days, you can harvest them with nail-scissors. And eat them!

I try to corral the escaping seeds. But, bouncingly eager for growth, they broadcast themselves in all directions.

Shaggy bedroom carpets (I speak from experience) are not the easiest terrain in which to track down recalcitrant mustard-and-cress seeds bent on world travel.

I do my best. But I can only hope that nobody unwittingly spills water on this carpet.

If they do, however, it's nothing to do with me.

*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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