Sunday, November 13, 2016


I give these prairie tours every fall at a farm museum and I just never know what is going to stick.  Does anyone really learn anything or is is just cheap entertainment for a day? I do this thing where I strip the seeds off a stem of yellow coneflower and let the kids pass them around to smell their minty spicy aroma.  It's a crowd control gimmick because it makes them quiet down to carefully pass the handful of seeds from palm to palm and sniff and compare assessments of what the fragrance reminds them of.
But this fall, something a little different happened.  One boy stopped me as I was about to move on the the next topic and said, "Wait, you said they were seeds.  Does that mean I could grow flowers from them?" Cautious of the pronoun and any offer of forbidden samples I might be agreeing to, I said, "Yes, these are the seeds of a plant called yellow coneflower and if whoever still has them wants to drop them on the other side of the path, maybe they will grow there."  Catching my attempt to thwart his attempts to appropriate prairie, he says "Can we take some HOME and grow them?"  Okay, HOW can I resist. I explain that we have a rule against letting kids pick things because we are going to have hundreds of schoolkids thru the tours that Friday and hundreds of members of the public thru on Sunday and we'd have nothing to show if everyone took something, and then I say that whoever wants some can line up and I'll give them a few seeds, just this once, and they can't tell.  Every single student in the group got into line, palms upturned, to take a seed head and carefully put it in their pocket.  I told them to be sure to remember to not leave the seeds in their pockets for the laundry, and to plant them in a place that was sunny when they got home or any time before spring. The young man suggests that the teacher write that in her notebook so that they will remember about the sunny location part.
We moved on to the beebalm, where I showed them how the leaves are fragrant when crushed and how there is a tiny black seed at the bottom of each tiny tube in the cluster of tubes that make up each flower.  Again, a question from the same boy, "Could we grow these too?" Internally mentally rolling my eyes at what I have unleashed in my rule breaking escapade, I cautiously answer "Well, yes, I suppose you could."  They line up again, palms open.  "Wait," says the ringleader, "How will we keep the seeds separate in our pocket?"  I ask the teacher how much paper she has and she shows me a full notebook.  I ask if each kid can have a sheet and she agrees, and I ask for one myself, tear it in half, and show them how to fold it into a tiny envelope.  Soon, I have nine kids on their knees in the grassy path, folding tiny envelopes and fishing the seeds from their pockets to put in one.  I pick a beebalm head for each for their second envelope, and we move on to talk about the birds that are eating the seeds of the tall stalks of prairie dock. 
I love those kids and I really hope at least one of them remembered to plant their seeds.  I also secretly hope the seeds of that plant spread into a nearby fencerow bed and the seeds of those plants jump the fence into a neighbor's perennial garden and the neighbor on the far side admires it and is given seeds for their own garden.  Do YOU want some prairie seeds?  I have yellow conefower and dock this year.  And I can tell you where to buy others for next spring.