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Illustration by Sharon Delblanc

Working with tweezers, a petri dish and extra strong eyeglasses, I grasp what looks like a yellow grain of sand and place it in a five-centimetre square of moistened potting mix. My hand moves back and forth between the dish and seed tray like a giant crane until the 72 cells are complete. I bend closer, trying to see if I missed a cell, but each seed disappears the moment my tweezer releases it. I depend on a methodical dispensing pattern and allow no distractions or my efforts will be sporadic.

I cover the tray with a clear dome and tuck the seed package in the lip of the lid for identification. The picture on the package shows a spray of deep burgundy flowers cascading over the sides of a planter. My memory bank flashes. There is the scent of spicey petunias, warm sunshine caressing my skin amid a myriad of sounds – like the intermittent drone of a bumble bee buzzing from bloom to bloom, and my favourite, the singular whir of a hummingbird extracting nectar in a morning mist. These poignant mental images are the hope and possibility that I bestow to each insignificant yellow speck in my tray; encased in the seed wall is fragrance, beauty, life.

But I have learned it’s not as simple as throwing the seed in the soil. Although the basic ingredients are similar, conditions are specific to each type of seed. Many factors impact the rate of gemination: soil temperature, PH levels, moisture and humidity. Light requirements vary also, some seeds call for darkness, others need direct sunlight. Then there is the impatiens, an ironic name for a flower that demands much patience to start from seed. It requires steady bottom heat and bright light with no direct sunlight; the red spectrum stunts germination. Once the seeds sprout, they are fragile, susceptible to cold and disease.

I often wonder what drives my obsession to grow my own seedlings. I could just go to a garden centre and purchase plants from commercial growers. Instead, I am compelled to grab yet another tray from the shelf and fill the cells with seed mix. Just as I am about to continue seeding, I hear my phone bleep from the other room. Probably a morning news update. I resist the urge to check on the world situation, trying to stave off the anxiety that has recently occupied my heart. I am already overwhelmed by the enormity of global warming, the eminent loss of biodiversity and the damaging impacts of microplastics. In addition, the huge divisions within society, exposed during COVID, have left me feeling disillusioned. I struggle with the idea that my Canada, a country of respectful diversity, is a myth. And now, I am frozen by unfathomable attacks on innocent people in Ukraine. Newscasts bombard my hope for humanity like the weaponry that is wreaking destruction on an entire country.

I strive to be an optimist; my parents taught me to look for the goodness in life and in each other. I cling to my belief that if we work together, we can solve the crises our world is facing. Lately, though, I battle a growing sense of hopelessness and despair. I turn off the notifications on my device but then an immediate sense of guilt engulfs me. I have that option, at least for now, while other fellow human beings are consumed by fear, huddled in darkness or stand in defiance against tanks, cruise missiles and ideology.

Unsettled, I pause to stare at the seeds lying in my hand. As I sow them into the bed of mix, my thoughts return to the question of why I start my own seedlings. I am a gardener. But it is definitely not a title I carry lightly, nor is it easy. Some days it feels more like a compulsion than a hobby.

I spend the long winter months reflecting on the last growing season. I keep detailed journals on planting times, seed selection and performance, recording both resilience and yields. I use these scratched-out observations to plan, develop best practices and understand what works well for my particular growing needs. I also search for weaknesses and gaps in my understanding. I then seek out solutions from others, learn new methods and set growing challenges for the upcoming season. Patience, knowledge and understanding, sprinkled with a healthy dose of determination – these are some of the important traits I have had to foster in order to coax life from each packet of seed.

But most importantly, growing my own seedlings is a meditative, spiritual practice. It helps me feel less helpless in a world descending into a maelstrom. For me, it’s more like a prayer, akin to eternal hopefulness. I plant the seeds but relinquish control to the mystery and my higher power. The metaphor of life as a garden is almost cliché, overused for stating the obvious. At this particular moment though, I find the comparison is not a trite or idyllic one, nor does it seem like a platitude. The garden is a microcosm of the world and we are all gardeners whether we realize it or not. Apathy, greed, power and disinformation are the nuts and bolts that hold together the artillery of global destruction. If the vast array of intricate life on our tiny planet has any chance of surviving the complex challenges ahead, then we need to foster all the traits of an avid gardener, as individuals and as a global community. It is essential to deepen our understanding of the issues we face, to continually re-evaluate what we think we know, be brave and strong enough to learn new ways and to make tough decisions. Embedded within the crops we individually cultivate for sustenance and survival, are the futures of our children and grandchildren.

Patience, knowledge and understanding, sprinkled with a healthy dose of determination; instead of feeling despair, I resolve to focus on the hope contained within the tiny seed. I remind myself that I can support positive growth with my wallet, my vote, my individual practices of conservation and, most of all, with kindness. I pause to say a prayer. I pray in multiple languages to a multicultural, ideologically flexible higher power. I pray for strength and resolve. Then I take a deep breath. I tear open the next packet of hope and begin to plant.

Sharon Delblanc lives in Sturgeon County, Alta.

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