Our Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) produces abundant spears of flowers each spring, attracting hundreds of bees. Later, green berries appear and dry through the summer on the tree. Winter winds shake the brown, dry seeds down, and invariably two or more sprout directly under the tree. We let them grow in the shade of their parent’s branches for a year, then in the dormancy of late winter, plant them out in other places in the yard. We’ve found an effortless way to have beautiful lavender flowers around the property without buying seed or sowing.
Seeds are plants in an embryonic state; although their life force is dormant, they are not dead pebbles. In storage, they require a cool, dry, insect-free setting. Transporting them in the trunk of your car on a Phoenix summer day for 20 minutes could kill them. Yet they can survive on the tree or in the soil, nestled deep among fallen leaves or gravel, waiting for the rain to give the signal to spring to life and begin to put down roots and stretch a stem toward the sky.
Participating in the cycle of plant life from flower to seed to seedling is a pleasure and a privilege. Although our Chaste trees sprout on their own, we expend time and care to grow many other plants from seed, choosing them from seed catalogs or exchanging with other gardeners, or checking them out of the VPA Seed Library. Afterwards we sprout them in seedbeds, carefully water, transplant to larger containers, and ultimately plant them out with a watchful eye to the best location in our garden. At the end of the season, when healthy, mature and productive plants make seed in our desert garden conditions, the seed is slightly better adapted to our weather, soil and climate than the parent plant. Tiny and unobtrusive, homegrown seeds contain the dormant energy to create the next generation of desert-adapted varieties. When we share or exchange these seeds among ourselves as desert gardeners, we join the centuries-long tradition of creating local landrace varieties of plants. Gardening becomes easier as plant care is less strenuous with locally adapted varieties.
Whether seeds are delicate (dandelions), delicious (sunflowers, pumpkins & legumes), or disc-shaped (tomatoes and peppers), their camouflage conceals the life force of plants able to thrive in our harsh climate and nourish our lives.