This summer, while in Colorado, I had a conversation with my parents about “going to seed.” I no longer remember the substance of the conversation (perhaps because my brain is going to seed?!), but what has stuck with me is the contrast between two perspectives on this common idiom in our culture.
Colloquially, going to seed is considered a bad thing. According to the Urban Free Dictionary, it means “to decline or fall apart; to become worn and shabby.” It tends to refer to people who have put their priority and attention on other things and ceased to take care of themselves or worry about their appearance.
Yet, in the gardening world, going to seed is the entire point of the process! Pretty green leaves and gorgeous blossoms are not the ultimate goal; they are tools to support going to seed. The point is to make sure there’s a next generation of plants, a continuation of the species. To put vital energy there, other parts of the plant don’t get as much support when their work is done. Leaves fade, and get brown around the edges, and eventually die off. Blossoms wilt and decay once their work to enhance pollination is done.
Right now, one glorious example of that process is a butternut squash vine that has spread itself across an entire corner of my back garden. As you can see in this photo, the larger leaves are no longer beautiful and green. That’s partly because it’s October, and the days are shorter, but it’s also because those leaves have done their work. The plant’s primary energy is being put toward ripening the squash fruits and maturing the seeds.
Yes, squash is technically a fruit (though we call it a vegetable), because it holds its seeds within it. (You can learn more about the definitions and differences here.) A fully ripe butternut is also fairly sweet—as are most of what we think of as fruits.
To return to my theme…in this harvest season, I’m thinking about going to seed in light of our culture’s focus on youth and external beauty. I recognize that we have truly missed the mark when we presume that “going to seed” is detrimental. Once we choose a mate and beget children, we rightly turn our focus on growing those seeds of the future. It no longer matters so much how we look, once we have “caught” that mate—to get back to the biological reasons for why looks matter when we’re younger!
So…as we enter this harvest season, I think of the various ways I’ve gone to seed, even though I haven’t borne biological children. I’ve served as a stepparent. I’ve sown all sorts of seeds in eight years of blogging. There are the seeds I’ve sown through retreats, spiritual guidance, and other writings I’ve shared through various venues over the years. I also hope that someday there will be published books—when I have more time to devote to them! Meanwhile, there are also the literal fruits of my garden, which sustain me and my family and friends.
How are you going to seed in valuable ways? What seeds have you sown—biologically, spiritually, metaphorically, and more?
This is very thought provoking. I remember the beautiful winter bouquets that people had in Maine of dried seed clusters and pods. They were second best to the fresh flowers but beautiful. However, seeds are the source of our life: breads and cereals are a primary component of our diets. We cannot go to seed until we have flowered… perhaps important to remember that we need to flower.
Thank you, Jen, for sharing what my post provoked for you, thoughts and memory-wise. Yes, fresh flowers must come first, and we are called to flower too. We can even eat some flowers, but they are not as sustaining as seeds! 🙂