Take, for example, the title of this post. It was suggested, as was the general topic, by the arrival of my new “Seeds of Change” garden catalogue. It’s about the only one I get now, because I’m trying so hard to become a gardening purist. But since the phrase itself has become such a cliché—if you don’t believe me, do a Google search—I thought I’d look it up. As something of a classicist, I should have known that it comes from Ovid, in book XV of Metamorphoses (ll. 177-79) , but I was unable to locate the translator who composed these lines:
There’s nothing constant in the world,
All ebb and flow, and every shape that’s born
Bears in its womb the seeds of change.From these:
nihil est toto, quod perstet, in orbe.
cuncta fluunt, omnisque vagans formatur imago;
The closest translation I could find (and I looked through at least six, both prose and poetry) was that of “Shakespeare’s Ovid”—Arthur Golding, whose 1567 translation is similar but doesn’t mention seeds:
In all the world there is not that that standeth at a stay.
Things eb and flow, and every shape is made to pass away.
The tyme itself continually is fleeting like a brooke. [ll. 197-199]
The lines follow closely (and interestingly, I think) on the heels of Pythagoras’s diatribe against the carnivorous habits of “modern” human beings, and his description of the Golden Age when men feasted only on veggies and were, thus, much more content.
Now, “Seeds of Change,” the organization whose catalogue I await eagerly each winter and dream over until planting time (and whose tasty salad dressings make me feel much less guilty when I’m too lazy to make my own vinaigrette), is more aptly named than any of the films or other enterprises emerging and using the phrase as a tag line or title. The company collects, propagates, and sells seeds of heirloom plant varieties, in hopes of changing the way we grow our produce. It’s not, of course, the only group doing so (Seed Savers comes to mind as well, and even the standard commercial seed-sellers are offering heirloom varieties more and more frequently; and local wildlife/nature organizations often offer native plants for sale).
This, it seems to me, is the direction things should be taking: salvaging and ensuring the survival of non-GM, non-patented seeds for plants that have survived the onslaught of modernity. We should certainly be taking a closer look at those plants whose properties can help save us from ourselves, such as high protein and antioxidant content and other nutritional attributes. As much as possible, we should leave behind the empty calories of the bleached or colorless varieties we’ve been growing that have been “designed” to withstand the effects of too-early harvest and the rigors of long-distance transportation.
As large a section as I can manage of the garden this year will become much less accidental than it has been. I will, of course, maintain the stands of mullein and inkberry that have volunteered in various corners, and rake over some wildflower seeds in spots that show less promise for food-cultivation. But this year’s garden will become purposeful in more than one way. Not only will there be vegetables and fruits planned for consumption and preservation, but they will be much more carefully purchased. Instead of waiting until the last minute and then popping over to Calloways to buy scraggly examples of limited offerings (north Texas suburban gardeners are sadly unimaginative), I’m going to mark my SoC catalogue carefully, order early, and make sure the beds are ready when the plants arrive.
These seeds will provide a symbolic bond, I think, between my garden and the Pythagorean landscape of flow, change, and variety—aspects of being that are painfully scarce these days, in this world of globalization, monotony, and entropy.
Photo: Mullein has volunteered in our garden for the past three years. I transplanted some lambs' ears last summer, to keep it company.