Sometimes in the Garden Big Things Come in Small Packages

There’s always been a debate about whether or not size matters in the garden, but can a small amount of seeds make a big impact? The answer is in today’s story.

I love going on road trips across the country and checking out every plant shop I pass by. I have driven to Florida and picked up citrus trees at the big roadside orange stands nearly every time I’ve gone (and promptly murdered them–sorry orange trees!) I know I can’t plant them in the garden, but I just love them!

Since these shops and products can be quite a tourist trap, vendors tend to sell them at exponential rates, as today’s author finds, when she buys a pack of Purple Hull Pea seeds for a whopping $1 per seed. I totally get the expense though, I mean look at me, I keep buying orange trees, and hauling them back to zone 5 expecting them to live, just because I love Florida and its oranges so much.

If I’m really lucky, maybe one day I’ll get one that survives, but I have fun trying on each and every road trip. I know I could just buy a real plant online, likely more disease-free than my stowaways, but what’s the fun in that?

If you can empathize, I bet you’ll enjoy today’s piece, “My Precious Purple Hull Peas.” See what happens to Mary Lou’s ridiculously expensive six Purple Hull Peas in the garden once she plants them.

More Joy in the Garden

This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. Pieces like these that turn the joy of gardening into everyday life lessons always brighten up my day, and I hope this story does for you as well. Enjoy!

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My Precious Purple Hull Peas

A dollar a seed? They were worth it.

By Mary Lou Brainerd

Last Fall my sister and I decided to travel to South Carolina to visit her son and his family. I drove from western Arkansas to her home near Springfield, Missouri, and we headed out. We are both history buffs and took our time on the way, stopping to visit any historical home we could get to. Somewhere in Tennessee, we stopped at an antebellum two-story stone dwelling that had wonderful gardens. When we finished the tour and were back at the visitor center, I noticed they had little brown packets of heirloom seeds for sale. They were fairly expensive at $6 per packet, but I decided to purchase a packet of purple hull peas.

I was very proud of my seeds and carefully packed them in my luggage. When I arrived back home, I stored them with my other seeds, saved from previous seasons. I looked forward to Spring when I could plant them in my garden.

Spring finally arrived. My husband brought in some good compost which we spread over the garden. He tilled the soil to a perfect condition for planting. I was so excited: it was time to open my little brown packet of heirloom purple hull pea seeds. To my surprise, there were only six seeds. Wow, a dollar a seed. What a disappointment. I usually plant two or three seeds to a hill, but with just six seeds, I planted one every six inches. I decided that if even half of them came up, maybe I could harvest enough seeds for the next year and have a real row of peas.

I was really surprised when every seed germinated. I very carefully hand weeded around each precious plant, and they grew well. I could see that they wanted to vine, so I put stakes in and strung twine back-and-forth for the vines to climb on.

The early Spring was especially cool, and there were very few blossoms on the vines. They did make a few nice pods, which I let dry on the vine and harvested for seeds. I got 30 seeds. Then, starting in June, we experienced extremely hot, dry weather.

The peas continued to bloom, but it was too hot for them to fruit. Hummingbirds and bees worked them vigorously, but there were no more seeds. We pulled up a lot of the garden plants as they were not producing. I considered pulling out those precious peas, but my husband said, “They’re still blooming and trying. Let’s give them a chance and wait a little longer.”

We continued to water them and when the high temperatures dropped below 100 degrees, the peas started setting on. They continued to produce peas through the middle of September. I couldn’t believe how many pods could grow from six plants. At first I saved seed, then we ate peas—which were very good—and dried peas for later on. We’d had several meals, have more meals to come, and have over 200 seeds to plant and share.

All of that from six heirloom purple hull pea seeds in a little brown packet! I can hardly wait until next year to see what an entire row will produce.

If only I could sell them for a dollar a seed! I could take another road trip. Who knows what kinds of seed I could find?

By Mary Lou Brainerd, published originally in 2020, in GreenPrints Issue #123. Illustrated by Russell Thornton

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Did this remind you of a similar story in the garden that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear it. 


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