Sower with Setting Sun

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

Vincent Van Gogh


I doubt, at my age, I will be sowing too many wild oats. There are, instead, new seeding notions that shape my dreams. I owe my life-long interest in seed germination to Miss Goodwin, my first grade teacher in the late 1950s. All the kids sowed green bean seeds in milk cartons filled with schoolyard dirt. I witnessed my first miracle back then—and not my last. I was hooked as soon as I saw the first, mysterious, blanched cotyledon push through the soil, followed by sun-drenched, chlorophyll-filled green leaves. 

Google image

I moved on to tomatoes, squash and marigolds before plunging into penstemons, pulsatillas and primroses. Over the last eight years, as the planet recorded five of the hottest years on record, I added a fourth gear—an escape hatch—with persimmons, oaks and mockernut hickories.

Mockernut hickory

Tree seeds are part of a recent dream that goes like this: I try to shake off the bad guys who threaten the health of my magical forest. These guys are the polar opposite of Miss Goodwin. The evil House of Shitgibbon poisons us with dirty air and water. The Shitgibbons distrust climate science and mock my little forest. I won’t stand for insults tossed at my precious trees. I fight back. But turning back Shitgibbons is hard work. The odds are piled high against me.  I soldier on—sowing one acorn and mockernut at a time.


I have collected tree seeds in gardens, parks, cemeteries, alleys—and in the wild—for years. My guess is you won’t have to go far to find your own acorns, hickory nuts or colorful berries. Keep your eyes peeled and stay clear of Shitgibbons. They will bully you and call you a loser, but don’t be afraid to sow tree seeds.

Seeds of paw paw plus yellow and red winterberries


Sowing the seeds is not hard. Take acorns for example.  Squirrels plant acorns; you can, too. Promptly sow your acorns outdoors in the fall. If you wait a few months, you’re out of luck. The seed embryos dry up and die. The sunny windowsill won’t work for germinating most hardy tress and shrubs, either. An outdoor garden bed works well. These seeds prefer nature’s normal rhythms. A warm stretch in fall, followed by colder winter temperatures, is what the doctor orders.

Trust me. By hook or by crook, squirrels will find your hallowed seed ground. I have covered plantings in the past with protective wire mesh that kept out the squirrels, but chipmunks and mice found a way to steal them. This year, I placed a large stone, with an adjacent label, on top of my little two-foot square planting. (Now, if I can only remember to take the stones off next early April before they germinate…) If the labels get stomped on, or heave out of the ground in winter, I have a backup marker with a golf tee or two that will at least let me know what’s underfoot.

Bur oak 

My identification system is not foolproof. My last line of defense, fool that I am (I mean, who dreams of planting a tiny forest to fight the Shitgibbons?), will be to try to kindle my feeble recall to figure out what I sowed in the first place.

Once your acorns are planted, you will be relieved of all duties until they germinate the next year. Acorns send down a seed radicle—the “embryonic root of the plant” during the first fall. Following this subterranean drama, there is no need to sweat further details until your little babies begin to grow in the spring. Weed them, water them, but otherwise leave them alone. The rabbits might graze a seedling here and there, and squirrels could still wreak havoc, but hopefully you will have a few extra little trees to spare. I dig my seedlings and plant the little trees and shrubs, or give them away, between the second or fourth year in late winter or early spring.

Kentucky coffee tree seed pod. Andy Schmitz and Jeff Carstens photo.

Eight years ago I sowed seeds of Kentucky coffee trees with my granddaughter when she was only three years old. These seeds are a tougher seed to crack. They once required mastodons and rhinos that gnashed on hard seedpods to reach the sticky pulp and seeds. Then the animals lumbered along while digestive enzymes worked, breaking down seed germination inhibitors. The seeds, excreted in a pile of dung, eventually germinated and ensured the species’ future.

Story May Lowe with Kentucky coffee tree. March 10, 2014.

It took two years of warm and cold seasons before my granddaughter’s seeds germinated—on their own—with no help from Pleistocene beasts, and another two years before we planted a pair along the Salt River in Salvisa. 

Story is now 11. She is growing faster than a bean sprout. Her Kentucky coffee trees, eight years from sowing, are almost ten feet tall.

Shitgibbons be gone.