As the days get shorter and cooler, folks wonder what I’m doing along the edge of the woods and along the gravel road on these nice afternoons. Some may think I’m doing things backward, but I prefer to say I’m forward-thinking. After all, athletes profess that championships are won in the offseason.

In this gardening offseason, I’ve been thinking about seed. That led me once again to pick off seedheads of wildflowers. I’ve done this before, with middling success.

Germination of the wild-grown seed can be low. If they’re so finicky, how can they pop up in the unlikeliest place? After doing this several years, I’ve come up with some nice daisy-like flowers and some long-stemmed yellow something-or-others, along with some things that resemble ironweed. I’m not a botanist so exactly what they are remains a mystery to me.

After simply dropping the wild seeds in flowerbeds produced zero results, I started doing what farmers do, tilling just a bit with the edge of a spade to work them into the soil. Some actually came up, bloomed and thrived. So, here I go again, giving it another shot with these plants growing along a nearby dirt road.

The dominant now-established flower in my main bed is the purple coneflower. Soon after we built our house here nearly three decades ago, I admired a friend’s bed of coneflowers. She urged me to snap off a few dried seedheads and take them home with me. I scattered those pointed little seeds around and scratched them into the soil.

They took hold and year after year produce blooms. They seem to want to do well. They peak fairly quickly but I like them while they’re here. Awhile back, I bought some small Tennessee coneflowers, a different species, and planted them in the same bed because it seemed the thing to do since I live in East Tennessee.

Not being a trained botanist, I now have a difficult time picking them out from my original coneflowers. I do little to them. They pretty much take care of themselves. They’re nice flowers. Butterflies like them. So do I.

They teach us something about seed. Everything turns on the miracle of seed. We have a civilization because people learned to domesticate seed that had value, giving us agriculture based on crops like wheat.

There’s also mystery in seed that captivates us. That’s what makes gardening so intriguing. Take any seed, bean, squash, corn, lettuce, you name it, put it in good soil, add water and sunshine, and it rises toward its destiny. That’s fascinating stuff, in its own quiet way.

Now and then when I’m in California I go to the Sierras to visit the Giant Sequoia trees. They’re the largest trees on earth, reaching more than 250 feet tall. The biggest weigh 2,000 tons. They can live 3,000 years or more. Yet their seed is tiny, less than two-tenths of an inch long, so light that they disperse in the wind.

They’re there because of the miracle of seed. And that miracle is why I’m out on the roadside, picking dried seedheads to move to the yard, just to see what they become. Come spring, maybe they, too, will sprout into something beautiful.

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