I learned my love of gardening as a child. It all started with a clear plastic cup, a black sponge, and four hard, dry corn seeds.
When I was very young, my mother bought us educational toys. Living in rural Upstate New York before laptops existed and while televisions were still rare, these toys were a real treat. In the early 1960s, children spent nearly all day, every day playing outside. The rule was, “Come home when the street lights go on.” Those were good times. But the arrival of a package from Creative Playthings was always very exciting.
A cup in a box
This particular shipment was to affect me all of my life. It was nothing more than a clear plastic cup, a black sponge that fit neatly inside the cup, four hard, dry corn kernels, and a piece of paper with instructions and a place to document what I observed. I was four years old.
The instructions told me to insert the sponge into the cup, which was easy enough. Then I was to slide the kernels of corn between the cup and the sponge, taking care to make sure that each kernel was pointing in a different direction. This was a little more difficult and required some patience on my part, but I recall feeling that it was important that I do this thing correctly. Nearly 60 years later, I can still feel and see the experience of pushing and prodding those seeds into position.
Just add water
Once my seeds were in place, all I had to do was add water and wait. Every day I checked on my seeds. Every day I checked to make sure the sponge was moist but not soggy. At first, nothing happened. I diligently noted this lack of activity on my record sheet. I’m sure I felt the same frustration and worry that I still feel at times toward slow-to-germinate seeds. But then, things started happening.
The magic of germination
My child-sized fingers knew how hard and pointy those corn seeds had been. To see tiny roots and shoots emerge was nothing less than miraculous. No matter which way the kernels had been turned, those first roots always knew to go down, while the first shoots always found a way to move upward, even if it took some twisting and turning.
Every day, I drew pictures of what my corn seeds-turned-seedlings looked like. Eventually, we planted them outside, but I don’t think they did very well. [Corn needs to be planted in clusters that allow for wind pollination.] It didn’t matter. I was hooked. It amazed me. It still does.
My first gardening experience is with me still. It taught me patience, nurturing, and good record-keeping. It left me with a sense of awe about the growing process.
What was your first gardening experience?
Kate Russell, writer, gardener, and so much more.