Thoughts on a garden chore


This morning my task was to deadhead the trailing petunia in the hanging pot on the front porch.  Petunias have a way of stopping the flowers after they have done their job:  that is, to make seed pods.   The petunia figures well, my job here is done, no more need to put my energy into flowering.  Instead I’ll grow these seed pods to maturity and that way I’ll perpetuate my DNA within the world.  As a result, most gardeners know you have to pick off the dying flowers before they set seed in order to keep your petunias blooming.

The petunia on the porch is a hybrid;  it already has been genetically reprogrammed to keep blooming even after it has set seed.  Of course all petunias have been genetically reprogrammed in one way or another.  But as I set out to nip off the dying flowers I was struck by a number of thoughts.

In trying to be mindful about my work, I focused on the body sensations I experienced as I worked with the plant.  I felt my bare feet on the wood of the porch, noticed the feeling of the air passing over my bare arms, felt the odd furry stickiness of petunia on my hands, and was aware of my dislike of that sensation.   In fact, I have to remind myself that it is just the petunia and that I will wash my hands after the task is completed, in order for me not to be carried away into thinking about how much I dislike petunia aroma and petunia stickiness.  Instead, I tried to be with the petunia  (I know, sounds kind of frou-frou and fluffy).   So I snipped off flowers and noticed my thoughts as part of the experience.  Here are some that surprised me.

  • Deadheading?  Why is this called DEADheading?   Those flowers are a bit past their bloom but this is hardly a dead thing, this seed pod full of the possibility of new life.
  • How peculiar to make a plant that will bloom beyond the need to set seeds.   It reminded me of what my dear partner says about seedless watermelon….that seeds are the REASON for watermelon, and so a seedless watermelon is a paradox and peculiar.  I guess that means so called “ever-blooming” petunias are also paradoxical and peculiar.
  • I thought about my efforts to control the bloom of this flower;  my desire, by doing this chore, to keep this plant blooming and blooming.  By my watering and feeding, by my pruning and my attention, I turn the nature of this plant to my desires.   I felt pretty odd about that.  But then, that’s the nature of gardening and of agriculture, isn’t it?   We don’t really live with nature.   We really do exert dominion over it, even in the small sense of pruning the petunias.


How interesting, too, that we appreciate and enjoy the flowers of the plant but the seed pods are cut off and discarded.   That is a different matter with food plants, where we might save our seeds for next year’s crop, I suppose, but most of us do not do that.   I had a sense while pruning that I wanted to honor the seed pods and the plant for creating the seed pods, in some way flying in the face of the human control that keeps on pushing for flowers.  Yeah, you people might like flowers, I can imagine some petunia voice saying, but I’ll keep subverting my energy to make seeds, and you have to keep on working to try to bend me to your will.

You go, petunia!

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