I’m Not Starting Seeds This Year. Here’s Why.

I’ve got better priorities.

Granted, this is a pretty gutsy thing to say as a garden columnist, but before you revoke my license, let me tell you exactly why I think it’s critical to share this with you.



I try very hard to live what I write. That is, if I spend an entire column lecturing on how easy it is to make a hypertufa trough; when you visit my garden, you’d darn well better see a few sitting around the place.

If I wax on about what a wonderful shrub Edgeworthia chrysantha is, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if I’m not actually growing it, or if I haven’t at the very least killed it once or twice in my efforts to grow it.  My work outside informs my work inside, and my own heroes in the garden writing world – both past and present – are not just spokespersons for a gardening lifestyle, they are/were deeply embedded in a garden life.


It really IS a great shrub.


So, all that said, one of my favorite soapbox topics is: Maintain It or Change It – matching the life you are leading right now with your current life in the garden. Constantly assessing and re-assessing that relationship doesn’t just make us better gardeners with more manageable gardens – it makes us better human beings for our spouses, kids and communities.

I start hundreds of seeds every year. Not starting seeds in the winter almost feels illegal.

No one likes a grumpy gardener (don’t tell Steve Bender of Southern Living fame), and when the enormity of your garden tasks mentally and physically exhausts you every day, it is very likely that you’re not coming back into the house re-energized and liberally spraying the people in your home with the milk of human kindness.

I deeply believe in this philosophy, but it’s not easy to implement. I struggle with it every season. I’m a Type Triple A personality and I don’t like to admit that I simply don’t have the time to do everything I know I could do given four more hours of daylight, a 22 year old metabolism and a supple young undergardener at my beck and call.

And, I have a very large property.

I entered into this relationship being of sound mind and body – insofar as one can when one is deeply, desperately in love – and I do not regret it. Five years later we’re doing okay and the kids are all right, but I force myself to assess every project based upon my ability to implement and maintain.

Thus, my annual January planning session hit a snag this year when I realized that I would be away for two weeks during two crucial times in the seed starting and transplanting process.

I start hundreds of seeds indoors every year. I’ve found some of my best edible and ornamental plants this way and have saved thousands of dollars over the course of my gardening life. Not starting seeds in the winter almost feels illegal.

Ironically, one of these trips is to visit the California Spring

[Seed] Trials, but the other is to visit and spend time with my parents whom I love, who are aging, and whom I don’t see nearly often enough.

That supple young undergardener exists only in my fantasy life.

And boy does he.

In his place I have a strong but less supple crotchety lumberjack-type who can whip together a pergola in two days but who still doesn’t understand why we can’t have an orange grove in our Mid-Atlantic meadow.

He is likely to chafe if I leave him in charge of 250 seedlings needing warmth and succor. He is likely to chafe greatly.

So I am faced with a decision. Start the seedlings – because I can – and watch them die slowly – because they will – and thus onward into disappointment and regret. Or, I can decide from the get-go that this is the year I purchase plants while direct-sowing later crops as usual.

I’m choosing Option B. Not just because it makes sense for my life right now, but because it means I’ve got an excuse to visit a greater range of nurseries looking for things like naranjilla and extra large poblano peppers.

That’s going to be fun. Costly, but fun.

And that, many words later my dear reader, is why I am sharing this story.

I can pretend that I’m doing it all and have you wondering what gives? because you can’t seem to do it all yourself; or I can be honest with you and with myself, and hopefully in doing so, empower you to work through balancing your own workload or family responsibilities with your garden life this season.

Choosing to martyr yourself should never be an option. Neither should putting the precious people in our lives behind a garden that could conceivably disappear the minute you sell your home.

(And yes, I know that was a cruel and callous shot, but if it gets you on a plane to see your mom this March, I’ve done my job.) – MW


Reprinted with the kind permission of The Frederick News Post

By | 2018-02-20T20:40:42+00:00 February 2nd, 2018|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.


  1. Dan Weil February 2, 2018 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Enjoy every moment of that tme with your parents. It is a finite privilege.

  2. AnnE February 2, 2018 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    After you become a certain age, decisions like yours will no longer feel illegal, especially when family is involved. I hope you have a wonderful visit with your Mom!

  3. dondemarco February 2, 2018 at 6:16 pm - Reply

    Hear! Hear!

  4. Sara February 2, 2018 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Happy for you. You deserve a break from taking care of hundreds of seedlings while waiting for warmth from the sun. And who knows, this may become a pattern. Enjoy California and your Mom

  5. willisjw February 3, 2018 at 12:14 am - Reply

    And you didn’t mention that confession is good for the soul. And we now all absolve you of any guilt. Of course, we will still ask you in April whether you started (name the plant) from seed. 🙂

    • Marianne Willburn February 3, 2018 at 7:03 am - Reply

      I know you won’t be that cruel John.

  6. tonytomeo February 3, 2018 at 5:21 am - Reply

    Hmm . . . I don’t do everything I write about in my own garden. I write about much of what I encounter at work, either growing horticultural crops, or in the gardens of clients.

  7. Susan Peterson February 5, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Good for you, enjoy your parents while you can. I am 66 now, live in inland central Florida in USDA heat zone 11. I care for a 1.5 acre yard alone, not nearly as well as I used to. Hurricane Irma’s wind and flooding destroying many of my plants, and we’ve had 2 hard freezes already this winter so many more plants won’t be coming back. And honestly, I don’t know how much replanting is going to make sense. Forced downsizing is no fun to contemplate but I just can’t do everything that I used to do.

    • Marianne Willburn February 5, 2018 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      I am currently helping my parents to downsize their garden which means putting some beds ‘to bed,’ not replanting things they always plant, and basically bringing it down to a manageable size that brings them joy and doesn’t suck their will to live in endless maintenance 🙂 Good luck with your own decisions there. Irma made a real mess of things for you and I’m so sorry you’ve had such cold weather – so very challenging. I have a couple of friends in Florida who have used the weather events of the last 6 months as a catalyst to take their gardens and/or lives in a different direction.

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