How a love of flowers and sowing seeds provide a metaphor for recovery from breast cancer and mastectomy.
Seed n. – definition: the unit of reproduction of a flowering plant, capable of developing into another such plant.
Seed n. – definition: the cause or latent beginning of a feeling, process, or condition
Where to begin about my flower seeds? Seeds are the reason for the “blooming” part of the title of this blog. I see this both in terms of blooming flowers and also as a blooming of my personal development. Just as a seed grows, is nourished and thrives, so I have grown from a negative, anxious, fearful woman into one who is positive, happy and excited about the future.
That I started to grow flowers from seed after being diagnosed with breast cancer seems to me to be a glorious happenstance. The metaphors flow from my keyboard – I sowed the seeds of hope, the blooming of a new way of living, the blossoming of happiness, you can’t grow a garden all at once – growth takes time, wake up and smell the flowers, when a seed flowers everyone recognises its beauty, you reap what you sow, the root of one’s success…
But for me, it isn’t just a metaphor. The acts of sowing and propagating seeds, caring for the seedlings, planting them out, nurturing, protecting, feeding and watering them, before finally cultivating and bringing them back in to my house (and hopefully into others’ houses, offices and shops) have given me a new purpose and helped me to focus my attention on something other than being ill and recovering from that illness.
I’m learning so much every day and making loads of mistakes along the way – which, it turns out, is OK too; as long as I remember to learn from my mistakes. And remembering is something that takes quite an effort in these post chemotherapy months! Despite my chemo and menopause addled brain, I did remember enough about my seed sowing experience last year to make sure that I made different arrangements this year.
If you’ve read my post called Chelsea Flower Show……. at home, you’ll know that friends and family sent me a load of flower seeds when the chemo side effects meant that I couldn’t get to Chelsea as I’d planned. I wrote about the culmination of my seed sowing – the plant sale – but not about the events leading up to that momentous event!
February 2017 – I decided, in my naivety, that this would be the right time to start the propagation of my flowers. I knew that they wouldn’t germinate if I sowed the seeds unprotected outside so some kind of shelter was needed for the tender little things. I couldn’t afford a greenhouse – oh, how I wanted one though – and didn’t have enough room for a polytunnel. The only thing for it was to buy a walk-in plastic greenhouse that was constructed, if that’s the right word, with a push together plastic frame. It even had a zip up door and shelves for my seed trays. Think of it like a tent, complete with ground anchors and guy ropes – if only we had remembered to use those! I was delighted with my purchase, even more so when Liam put it together for me when I was away at a rugby camp for the weekend.
The next week I was out in the garden filling my seed trays with seed compost and sowing away to my heart’s content. All of the trays were lovingly labelled with the name of whatever seeds I’d sown in there and placed on the shelves in the plastic greenhouse. All I had to do now was keep them watered and watch them grow – or so I thought. As luck would have it, the very next weekend Storm Doris paid her 94mph visit to my garden……. and destroyed what turned out to be my rather flimsy plastic greenhouse!! Seed trays were distributed randomly around the garden; labels, compost and seeds mixed up wherever Doris decided to drop them. It was a bit of a calamity.
Was I deterred? Well, yes I was…. for a day or two. Then my resilience kicked in and I decided to see what could be salvaged from the wreckage. I had no idea what was in any of the seed trays anymore, so I just scooped up whatever compost I could find and plopped it into whichever seed tray was nearest. No need to label them anymore as I had no idea which seeds were which. I told myself that the plant sale would be rather like a lucky dip – I was still convinced that the plants would grow, and the sale would happen. What amazing optimism from someone whose glass was usually, not half, but three quarters empty!
February 2018 – I had learned from my mistake of trusting a plastic greenhouse the previous year. I still didn’t have the funds for a permanent greenhouse, or the land for a polytunnel, so what to do? After much thought and research on the internet, for at least a day, I decided on a seed shelving rack, complete with heat mats and grow lights to be situated in my son’s old bedroom.
I bought a sturdy metal shelving unit from Ikea – one that it turns out you can’t build without at least two hands on each arm! After much swearing, crashing and sweating, I managed to put it together and it’s still standing. Seed trays and plug trays were purchased along with seed compost, vermiculite and more packets of seeds than I’ll be able to use in my lifetime – those seed catalogues really are very enticing!
Again, the weather played a part in my seed sowing. I chose the coldest week in many years to stand outside and fill the trays with compost. As my fingers were threatening to fall off, I brought the trays inside and painstakingly placed one seed into each chamber. Onto the heat mats they went, covered with cultivation lids, and to my amazement and joy, tiny shoots started appearing after only a few days. I wasn’t prepared for this germination speed and hadn’t managed to buy any grow lights which are essential for tiny plants grown inside.
Clearly, I needed to get some lights and fast. I discovered a shop in Wembley that had what I needed so I set off there one Sunday lunchtime. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Growell Hydroponics, but I was somewhat surprised to find myself on an industrial estate faced with a heavy metal gate which barred the entrance to the warehouse. As I looked around the store, it became clear to me that none of the other customers were cut flower farmers. They all seemed interested in growing an entirely different type of indoor crop. Who knew that there were so many different type of grow lights? I had to ask advice from one of the really helpful staff, who only confirmed my suspicions about their main cropping focus when he asked me if I was planning to grow grass. It seemed that he hadn’t come across many flower growers.
Lights purchased, time to rig them up on my shelving unit. The tiny seedlings have grown and put on new shoots and leaves. I worry now that they’re going to be too big before it gets warm enough to plant them on outside. But that’s for another day. For now, I need to get on with sowing the next batch of seeds, encouraging my recently sown sweet pea seeds to germinate, and potting up my newly divided dahlia tubers. I may yet become a proper flower farmer!
Seeds and seedlings on my seed rack today:
Cosmos Sensation, Cosmos Albatross, Batchelors Buttons, Chocolate Laceflower, California Poppy Orange King, Cleome Helen Campbell (not yet germinated), Sweetpeas Anniversary, King Edward VII, Mrs Collier, Blue Velvet, Prince Edward of York, & Almost Black.