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October 6, 2004
May I take you home, Miss? I murmur to the coconut-scented geranium we find in a park, as I pinch off a bit of stem just below a leaf node. She'll never miss it -- she'll be the better for it, in fact: plants respond well to a bit of pruning. Please do not pick the flowers, reads a sign nearby. But my conscience is clear: I am not picking flowers. I am picking a leaf with a bit of stem attached. In a month or so, I will have a coconut-scented geranium of my very own.

A neighbor's fence is covered with a cloud of white clematis-like blossoms in late summer, blossoms that give off a lovely scent. Now the flowers are gone, and in their place are bits of white fluff, ready to be blown away and scattered by the wind. At the end of each bit of fluff is a seed. I grab a few bits of fluff and put them in my pocket. There is nothing wrong with this, I reason: I am only doing what the plant itself is also doing, spreading its seed abroad. The only difference between us is that I know where these seeds will take root -- they will be in my garden.

Unlabelled jars of seeds line a pantry shelf -- I know what each one is. There are the poppy seeds, as tiny as grains of black sand, spilling out of their dry pod. There are the cosmos seeds, harvested from each spent blossoms until I had collected about a hundred -- a person doesn't need more than a hundred cosmos seeds. I am lying in wait for my daughter's purple cosmos blooms to wither, so that I might steal their seeds, too. There are two kinds of hosta seeds, one variegated and smooth and one plain green, but intriguingly ribbed.

I enter the room in which I practice spiritual direction at the convent and stand stock still in wonder: an enormous Rex begonia sits on the table, its purple veins fat and succulent, its leaves large and healthy. Take a leaf home and you can start it on the surface of a shallow dish of soil, as follows: pin it down with hairpins, make a few sharp cuts across a few large veins, keep it moist and not too sunny, and little begonias will sprout from all the cuts.

Who can resist a Rex begonia? A coconut geranium? A new hosta? Who can stand by and not want to help these citizens of the natural world as they industriously clone themselves, as they offer their seeds to the wind in the hope that some of them, at least, will go on. Thousands of seeds they offer, and thousands of leaves -- the odds aren't good for each individual seed, so the plants must make up in volume what they lack in certainty.

Invest widely. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Start a few things, not just one -- you don't know in advance which ones might come to grief. Better too many than too few.
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