Our first crop of sunflowers was a gift from unseen forces—a bird, perhaps, or a squirrel? The seedlings poked their heads up in the two raised beds in our garden—in and amongst the poppies, alongside the cosmos plants we had raised from seeds and planted in the bed.
My husband Steve (the one who does the gardening), contemplated the upstarts.
“I’m going to let these grow and see what they are.”
He had an inkling they were something special—volunteers worth giving a chance. I suspected they were broad-leafed weeds, but agreed.
A few weeks later, he was certain. “They’re sunflowers.”
And then there were more.
Nature is a considerate landscaper. She sowed the seeds in sequence, so that while one flower bloomed, the next was climbing toward the sky. For weeks last summer, we enjoyed a rotating succession of blooms. As one lost its petals and developed seeds for the birds, the next unfurled and turned its face to the sun.
Some were short, others tall. Their flower heads ranged from a few inches in diameter to 10 inches or more.
Last fall, Steve gathered the seeds from these volunteers, and this spring he planted them with care, choosing their locations, hoping for the vigorous success of their ancestors.
This time, the world waited to devour them.
Unseen insects feasted not only on the established leaves but also the brand new growth, stunting the plants’ upward progress. A subterranean creature yanked a just-sprouted seedling below for a tasty treat.
We’ve had to shelter them from birds and bugs as seedlings, and spray them with neem oil (a natural insecticide) as they grow to protect the fresh leaves. (By we, I mean Steve.)
Why were last year’s volunteers, left to their own devices, so fortunate?
Maybe we only saw the survivors. (It’s survivorship bias!) Nature believes in abundance. Plants generate thousands of seeds so that a few can take hold and propagate themselves.
How does this related to writing?
Ideas are like sunflowers.
You need to generate a lot of ideas to produce something wonderful.
Some ideas never land on fertile soil—you have a concept, but it never makes it beyond your head and into words. Others are crowded out by the exigencies of life. You may nip others in the bud pretty early—you try writing, but it doesn’t go anywhere.
And some ideas are like those stunted, late sunflowers, with small, late blossoms that barely rise above the surrounding plants. Your writing may be lovely, but no one ever sees or hears it.
(Much writing belongs in that category.)
Not every seed sprouts. Not every idea deserves publication. If you don’t write, you’ll never know.
But when an idea arrives, like a gift from nature, see where it takes you. You might be delighted.