A Girl in the Garden

A girl in the garden. / Hayden Young

As the little green sprite in all of us prepares for tomorrow in hopes of obtaining a pot o’ gold at the end of a rainbow, I have filled my pot full of green life: seeds. The treasure at the end of my rainbow this year was in attending my first ever “seed swap.” Although no leprechauns were spotted, this event was laden with heirloom seeds from Berry College and locals who came together to learn how to propagate seeds and share their ancestry.

The practice of seed swapping was started by Native Americans as a way to ensure future crops and food sources. As befitting the location, the 6th Annual Seed Swap occurred at Chieftains Museum. The speaker, Dr. Brian Campbell, associate professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Berry College, gave a fascinating presentation on preserving heirloom seeds and agrobiodiversity. I learned that, as a nation, Americans living in the city have only three days of food supplies available during a catastrophe. After the lecture, everyone was encouraged to take some seeds and swap theirs with others, passing along the generational information and allowing Berry College to catalog those seeds. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to bring seeds with you in order to take away a treasure, but make sure to bring plastic bags and a basket. Berry College had hundreds of seeds that have been cultivated on campus available to anyone who wanted them.

Now I want to become a girl in the garden, too, a Master Gardener. This program was offered in conjunction with a group of incredibly talented green thumbs from the Master Gardener program. This 40-hour program is offered by University of Georgia Extension Services and starts in January every year. They learn everything from soils to chemicals and the local history of plants. Trained volunteers then take their knowledge into the community to design residential landscapes and educate the public. This group was also responsible for the planting of the Three Sisters Garden on the museum grounds in 2015. It consists of corn, a significant plant spiritually for the Indians, believing that corn was given to them by the gods. After the corn was planted in a bale of hay, the Tushaw squash was planted, an heirloom squash developed and grown by American Indians, which on average, can weigh up to 8 pounds. Its leaves choke out the weeds in the garden. Lastly, the beans are planted and climb the corn stalks for strength while deterring deer and rodents. Another exciting event that came from planting this garden was the melding of past and present in the form of a special and unexpected visit from the direct descendants of Major Ridge. They arrived from the Western Band of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma after hearing about this unique and educational garden in Rome. They brought a special gift — heirloom seeds from the White Eagle Corn plant, which was once harvested on Major Ridge’s plantation. I can’t wait to see this corn in its natural beauty as it reaches 12 to 15 feet high.

As I wandered outside, I was able to add to my basket living columbine, sunflowers and garlic chives. I was lucky as a leprechaun to win an heirloom raspberry plant grown on the Berry College campus to take home as well. The seeds that I was given came to life for me from my childhood memories: red hollyhocks and the money plant. The hollyhock seeds came from three generations of the Eldridge family first grown in South Georgia. The seeds I received most recently came from Toccoa. The hollyhocks stood sentry over my mother’s garden for years, but in deep, stately purple. I learned that red hollyhocks are not as common, making this find even more exciting. The other seeds I added to my basket came from a local shrub called the money plant. The giver generously gave me a small bag full of its seeds and taught me how to cultivate them, just as she and her mother before her.

Every seed has a story, and yet we think that we are the only entities with fascinating stories to tell. This girl in the garden does not need a rainbow to obtain my pot o’ gold as it is now filled with seeds, growing our future and preserving our past.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com