All garden treasures started as seeds. Be it a fragrant lilac, a juicy tomato, or a blue ribbon-winning pumpkin, the best, biggest, and most wonderful plants sprouted from an unassuming seed.
About 20 years ago I interviewed Fr. John Fiala, an amateur hybridizer well known for breeding lilacs — and writing about them. His book "Lilacs: The Genus Syringa" (revised and updated by Freek Vrugtman as "Lilacs: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia") is still considered the definitive work on the subject.
As we walked through fields of his Ohio farm, he pulled seed pods off one lilac bush after another: “Try planting them,” he said. “You may get something interesting.”
What I got, nine years later, was better than interesting: three long rows of 10-foot-tall lilac bushes, about 60 altogether, with flowers ranging from white to deep purple.
Nothing was so wonderful or special that I thought I might earn a living as a commercial breeder and grower, but my lilacs were handsome and fragrant enough to enhance the landscape. And each continues to produce new generations of seeds, which beget more new flower forms and colors.
Nine years may be longer than most gardeners have in mind when they cover a seed with a bit of soil. Beans and marigolds are quicker, but my lilacs also confirmed what remarkable things could come from those brown, parchment-leaflike seeds.
Each of us can expect wonders from seeds, which come in an army of sizes from the dustlike specks of epiphytic orchids to the 40-pound monsters produced by the sea coconut (Lodoicea maldivica).
They also come in all sorts of forms: the silky-tailed seeds of milkweeds; the striped elliptical seeds of sunflowers; the nearly square seeds of corn; the rock-hard round pits of cherries; the ridged oval seeds of carrots; and tens of thousands more.