Last week, I spent over an hour looking over seeds packets in a huge display.   I would pick up a packet; give it a shake to hear the contents inside, envisioning each seed becoming a flower. I have had very little success with starting seeds indoors, but long to have my fingers in dirt. I attempted a few varieties last year and only two grew into plants strong enough to survive in the garden.   Although two is better than the previous year of none, it is discouraging. After much debate, I start to grab a few of my favorites, zinnia, sweet peas, snapdragons and marigolds. These are fairly easy to grow. The cashier remarked that I was buying a lot of seeds as I placed my handful of packets on the counter. He bantered on about how he couldn’t grow things from seeds and that he no longer tried.   “You won’t have flowers by not trying” I told him and it made him pause in mid scan. He looked at me in amazement as if I spoke a great truth. You are so right! We shared a laugh and I took my bag full of promises home.

We have had good rain and warm days and there is signs of new growth everywhere. I am a little fearful that they will not survive the next cold snap which will happen as soon as the redbud trees bloom. In Tennessee they have these cold snaps called “winters”.  A guarantee of three cold spells before spring is officially here. The first is the Redbud Winter when the redbud trees are in bloom. Then it is the Dogwood winter a few weeks later. Then finally it is the Blackberry winter, which is when the blackberries are in flower. I found this fascinating when I first moved here from Michigan and trying to figure out my new growing zone. Right now the redbuds are just starting to show signs of buds, if I am going to plant seeds anytime soon it will have to be indoors.

I know from previous experience that there is nothing more discouraging than starting seeds and having them die before they bloom. I get so hopeful when the seedling pokes out from the soil. I start to think I might be successful when the first leaves start to unfold. I am diligent with watering and keeping the right amount of light. I am good up until this point, then the difficult part, the hardening off period. The tender plants need to adapt to the elements of weather before they can survive as an “outdoor” plant. This is where I fail. It is heart breaking watching the seedlings droop and eventually die. The babies I have tended to for weeks and weeks are suddenly gone. It is tricky trying to balance the need to expose them to the elements without damaging the tender young leaves. One mistake and all is lost and all that work has been for nothing. It can be frustrating enough to not want to try.

I have a garden that has grown into my sanctuary. I have had plants that have failed. I have tried plants that I loved in Michigan, but were not suited for the conditions of Tennessee summers. I have planted plants that grow too well and have a tendency of taking over and crowding out other plants. From all those failures I have learned what works and what does not and I have a beautiful garden to show for it. Over time I will learn the tricks of hardening off tender plants to survive the outdoor life. Out there on their own and out from under my control.

My teenage children are going through this stage too. I have nourished them all this time and now it is time to let them get use to being “outside” and out of my control.  How I wish I could protect them,  but like a flower, they won’t reach their full potential unless allowed to spread their roots out there in the world. It is difficult to know the balance of exposing them to the world. Too much freedom could find them in trouble, too little could limit their growth. It is one I struggle with daily, but lessons like this help answer those tough questions.

I will fill my pots with soil and I will poke holes in the dirt and carefully place the seed in and cover it up. I will water and provide the light needed. I will rejoice at the first signs of growth and I will carefully harden it off before I place the tender plant in the garden. I will be rewarded with blooms that will bring my beloved butterflies and hummingbirds. Then I will slowly watch the beauty fade, the blooms will dry up and the petals will fall. In its place a seed head will form and each bloom will hold a hundred tiny promises.   I will carefully collect and hold until next spring, where the process will begin again. I can’t stop in fear of failure because if I do the next cycle of life will never have a chance.

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