By Katie Finch, Senior Nature Educator

The recent winter warm spell has been challenging. As a gardener, I’ve been dreaming of turning over garden soil and tucking in seeds. The sunshine tempts, but I must resist. Despite the lack of snow, it’s just not time yet. The ground is still cold and many plants still dormant. And the return to freezing temperatures and snow is still a reality.

So, what’s an eager gardener to do in March? Late winter is a good time to think about seeds ¾ both the seeds of our interest in gardens as well as the seeds we plant in the soil.

The seed of my interest in plants and gardening was planted by my mother. She is an avid landscape gardener. She also dabbles in growing vegetables, herbs, berries, and harvests a few wild edibles. As a kid, I was a sponge for anything involving the outside or food. Put them together, and I was thrilled! My favorite vegetable plants, then and now, are peas. Snap, snow, or shelling peas are great. Picked off the vine, from a market basket, or the frozen food aisle, I love them all. (I draw the line at canned peas.)

I remember fondly planting snap peas in our little garden outside the kitchen as a kid. Peas are a good choice for young gardeners. The round, wrinkly seeds are large enough for little hands to poke into the ground. The leaves unfurl toward the spring sun and tender tendrils twisted around anything nearby. The hooded flowers seem to transform into little green pods overnight. When the pods grow big enough to pick, their sweetness sends you back for more.

Break open a plump pea pod, and you’ll see the full life cycle of the plant. Inside the pod are replicas of the very seeds that were buried in the soil two months before.

As a child, growing peas and other plants from seed amazed me. Frankly, it still does. In early March, I take stock of my seeds while I resist getting them in the ground. They don’t look like much. But these tiny paper envelopes of seeds I purchased are my garden. Just add soil, water, sunshine.

Whether it’s peas, vegetables, or any other plant, a seed holds all the information to turn a few millimeters of plant material into a meal. The largest tree in the world started from a seed the size of a pinhead. Seeds know exactly what to do. They also know when to start.

For now, most seeds are closed-up in their seed coat. It’s their armor against the cold and biting world. When triggered by warmth or light, they take their one and only chance and open. They become vulnerable, for a seed cannot become great by staying closed in. It must reach out. It must send a delicate root in search of a drink. It must send its one shoot skyward. Leaves emerge and roots grow long to begin their life-long process of turning non-living components of our world into themselves.  

As gardeners, we do our best to set seeds up for success. Their future is our food, so we take some control. We learn the timing and temperature needs of each seed we plant. We work to provide the correct amount of light, water, and fertilizer. We want them to flourish.

But in the wild, once rooted, a seed cannot move itself. If a seed germinates in a place that is too dry, too small, too dark, it may fail. If it lands in a place where a human doesn’t want it or an animal can eat it, the chance is lost. And there is no recovery. It is no wonder that some plants put out so many seeds. When there are so many opportunities for failure, a plant takes a lot of chances.

Seeds are not ruled by the workings of human psychology. Thank goodness! But playfully, I wonder, if a seed knew what it had to lose, would it ever come out? Would it keep existing inside its protected coat? At least it’s alive, but its potential untapped. Or would it take that chance to perhaps grow as mighty as an oak, as stunning as sunflower, or as tasty as a pea.

Witnessing the growth of plants from seed is something of the miraculous. This is true certainly, for children, but also for adults. As adults we know what is involved and what’s at stake. If you take it one step farther and become part of growing a plant from a seed, you become part of the magic that is nature.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.