Grow Write Guild #1: My First Plant


I hope you enjoy this first writing prompt. Future prompts will range from simple to complicated and silly to serious. Some will be straight ahead and others will be surprising and unexpected. Please join the newsletter if you’d like to be notified when prompts are posted to this site.

In interviews, I am often asked to relate my “Genesis” story. “How did you get started gardening?.” It seems like such a simple question. You’d think I’d have a great response in the back of my pocket by now, given that I have been called upon to answer it countless times. Instead, my response is always the same: sheer panic.

Uh. Well. You see. It’s sort of a long story to tell. Ummmmmmmmmmm… It’s, uh, complicated.” Fumble, fumble, stammer.

It’s not that I don’t know my own story, it’s that it is not a story with a single, definable beginning. The way I see it, there are many things in life that are like this. Sometimes there is no singular act that sets you off on a path, but several acts and experiences — some conscious and others unconscious, that lead you to a destination that you may not have been able to foresee.

After the initial fumbling, my response to this simple/big question is often to begin with my first plant. I’m not certain that it is the beginning of this thing that I do (growing things), but it is an important experience that I can recall with clarity. I was only five at the time and growing a plant was not an activity that I had a hand in choosing. However, my memory of it is telling and a reminder that the urge to connect to the natural world in some way was always there, even if it took me a while to put conscious thought and action to it.

So this is where I thought we’d begin. At the beginning. But not really.

Grow Write Guild Prompt #1: Write about your first plant.

Use the following questions to help spark memories and different approaches to this prompt. Read each question, one at a time, and jot down the very first thought that comes to mind. Try not to hesitate. No one is going to read these notes but you, so don’t be afraid to let your mind wander. Ignore the questions if you don’t need them.

    Further Questions:

  • How old were you when you grew this plant?
  • Where did you grow it (city, country, someone’s house, your own home, in a pot, in a garden)?
  • How did you come by the plant? (Did you buy it as a mature plant? Grow it from seed? Was it a gift? Did you steal it?)
  • What drew you to the plant? (Aesthetic: color, shape, form? Did it look tasty? Smell nice? Have an appealing texture?)
  • Did you know anything about this plant before you decided to grow it?
  • Did you have an emotional attachment or memory around this particular plant or type of plant before you decided to grow it? If yes, what was it?
  • Did you enjoy growing the plant or was it a negative experience?
  • Where is the plant now (alive; long dead; you ate it; it died, but spawned progeny that lives on)?

Now, I realize upon writing this, that there may be many of you out there for which this prompt has created panic much in the way that the Genesis question does for me. “But I don’t remember my first plant!!! I hate you and your stupid question!

Don’t worry if you can’t recall your first plant. Or your second. Or your third, forth, fifth… one hundredth. Instead, write about the very first plant you do remember, or the one that pops into your mind as you read this sentence. There is no right way to respond to the prompt (or any of these prompts). Go with what comes up. You can even write about how much you hate me AND my stupid question, just as long as you send along a personal check to help pay for my next therapy session.

The Grow Write Guild is a creative writing club for people who love to garden. Everyone is welcome to participate! Click over to the Grow Write Guild FAQ to learn more about it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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81 thoughts on “Grow Write Guild #1: My First Plant

  1. Oh! these are easy questions. My first plants were tomato, eggplant and pepper plants bought with trepidation in 2010 :-). Before that I tried growing those house plants, vines, but they usually faced death :-).

    • It’s up to you how you approach the prompt. You can respond as you did here or write a longer story about the experience and its effect on you. I added in the other questions to help jog memory or help tease out a longer story.

  2. My first plant was lentils that grew on cotton in a yogurt’s cup. I was a kid, and I probably did it because of a school project. I remember me feeling very curious about the whole process “Why can the plant grow on cotton? Don’t plants need soil? Why does it start dying after it reaches a specific height? Why does it get smelly? Why does the cotton’s colour turns into black-ish?”.
    Good questions, great lessons!
    My second plant was chili pepper, 12 years ago. I still have descendants of the first plant :-)

    • The whole having descendants from the first plant thing is so fascinating to me! I’m hoping to be able to do the same things with my seedlings – I learned all about how to harvest seeds from them at Seedy Saturday a couple of weekends ago, so fingers crossed!

  3. what if our first plant was a turtle we found in the garden buried in the dirt? i can’t remember a first actual plant-plant. i’m just going to go with it.

  4. One of my first plants that I chose with great thought, at age 17, was a spider plant. I had it in my room, on top of my TV till I moved out. That plant has been with me, like a pet, through young adulthood trials and tribulations; it sat on top of that TV as I watched the NY Mets win the World Series in 1986; I moved with it time and again all over Long Island and then finally to Maine where I finally bore witness to the sprout of baby spider plants. Then came Leilei the cat who decided to chomp on it one day and I was devistated. However, I mended what I could, nursed what was left and it now hangs in my studio keeping me company when I paint. It’s been 33 years- way longer than any of my marriages!

  5. My story is a little different. I grew up in a very rural area and on a farm. Everyone had gardens as well as animals that became meals. My first plants were helping to tend garden plants probably when I was around 4-5. On Sundays before Church, we would work in the garden with our Dad and we had a little space to raise our own things. At the same time, I took to wanting to be with my Grandfather who did the farming and at the age of 6 was allowed to drive the old Supper A tractor under huge supervision of course. As I grew into farming, 4-H became my interest. In this learning experience, I ended up with my own acre of tomatoes, and then 5 acres of soybeans. I knew agriculture was my destiny. I earned a BS in Plant and Soil Science and have worked with Retail, Wholesale and Independent Consulting over the years to where I not only worked with my own plants but thousands of acres of other peoples plants. I am a Professional Agronomist, now working as a Sales Agronomist for a Seed Company. I have a 20 x 40 green house that I grow veggies and flowers from seed and quite frankly give most away other than what I want to raise in my garden. I work with nutrition of plants to enhance quality, shelf life and flavors. My production is either eaten fresh, canned or given away.

    In short, Understanding plants and the growing of plants pretty much puts you in tune with creation and the natural beauty of life itself. I would not know how to live any other way.

  6. my first plants were grown after watching a tv show about how to grow plants from seed – I found myself taking notes and then running off to the local hardware store to buy seeds and soil and I came home and planted all the seeds which meant my first experience was growing about a million seedlings all at once and then seeing my boyfriend outside digging up our whole backyard for them (I hadn’t even thought about where they were going to go … I blame this on the fact that it became such a full-time job caring for them that I just didn’t have time to think past what was happening in front of my eyes). I was in heaven. The last thing I remember about the garden that year was braiding onions after letting them dry in the sun for a few days and proudly hanging them all over the kitchen. It was difficult for me to cut one off to use so they were mostly ornamental.

  7. Now this gives me more reason to get that gardening site that I’ve wanted to do up and running! I’ve been slacking off about it, but I think soon I will have to bite the bullet and just WORK on it! Mainly because these prompts are going to be SO AWESOME! ?
    Wonderful work Gayla! I absolutely adore the graphic used for it – Davin is a genius!

  8. This topic brought so many wonderful memories to mind. Thank you for posting it. I wrote about my first plants and will be posting it Thursday on my blog. I’ll come back and link to it. I might be done crying by then.

  9. This inspired memories for me. Specifically of my grandparents… I couldn’t think of a “first plant”, but I can recall (even if from photographs) my first experience with the outdoors and gardening. Just posted it on my blog. Thank you, Gayla.

  10. In 2009 I bought a bunch of seeds and set out to garden in a little 10 x 10 plot in our yard. I started some radish seeds in a small terra cotta pot. After a few weeks they were bunched up like a chia pet and it was time to move them into the dirt. It was May in Missouri and it was hot. The soil was good but a bit dry and it was hard work. I was sweating and digging and I stood up and thought “This is a lot of work for a small bunch of radishes!” I remember thinking that I must be doing this for more than just radishes because I was REALLY enjoying myself! When I harvested the radishes (they were heirloom: French breakfast)I took about a million photographs of them. I gave them away to my son’s school (which has a big garden) mostly because I wanted to show them off! This first growing experience pretty much sums up my love (maybe obsession!) of gardening: the fresh produce is great but the experience and aesthetics of a garden are just perfect.

  11. i love the idea of a writing guild. i think it is really smart and fun. i had a similar experience of not remembering a specific plant, and then finding that i couldn’t quite get the prompt out of my head.

    prompt #1

  12. Love reading the comments here….my firs tplant memory is being given a tiny maple tree in nursery school. My dad helped me plant it–54 years ago. I grew up watching it grow, getting taller than me pretty quickly, losing limbs in ice storms….my parents are gone so only I remember the beginning of the little maple…and i walk past it every day, still living on the same property. I try not let hubby see me talk to it-he would think i was bonkers…

  13. My thoughts go right back to my first apartment in 1972. A basement apartment sparsley furnished by two newlywed teenagers. I was still in HIGH school at the time. I actually drew a pencil drawing of the ‘avocado tree in a clay pot’ during art class. The other point of interest in the drawing was a tiny seedling growing at the base of the tree. My art teacher lived in the upstairs apartment. After that assignment we all spent more time together after school. What ever happened to the avocado tree? I can’t remember. The tiny seedling? Up in smoke, I’m sure.

  14. Thanks for the inspiration, Gayla! I wrote all about my first plant, “Stalky” (a popcorn kernel seedling), and you even inspired me to get out my pastels and draw a picture of it. :)

    Feel free to check it out:

    What I loved about this writing project is the way I realized while writing that I’ve come full-circle – I’m starting seedlings for the first time this year (pics at the blog posting above of the DIY lighting set up inspired by your post about same), and I’m finding myself relating to them the same way I did to Stalky 25-30 years ago…

    Looking forward to the next Grow Write Guild installment!

  15. This was such a good idea, Gayla. I’ve been reading my way through everyone’s posts and adding more blogs to my feed reader. I hope I’ll be able to keep up with reading about everyone’s gardening exploits!

  16. I’ve just popped over after reading Helen’s blog. What a great idea. I’ve signed up for your newsletter so I can hopefully take part next time.

    • There’s still time. I won’t be posting the second prompt until next week…. and you’re welcome to write and publish your response whenever you want… the 2 weeks is just a guideline.

      I haven’t had a chance to write my own yet!

  17. Hi Gayla.

    Thank you for a wonderful website and a great idea to get people writing and telling stories.

    While I am a writer myself, I discovered I wanted to write about and share the story of my first plant in your Grow Write Guild on this date, the three month anniversary of my dad’s passing since he was the one who opened up the wondrous world of gardening to me as a young girl.

    Thank you for triggering a precious memory for me.

  18. I was in elementary school and our class wrote to Jimmy Carter. In return he sent us a letter and peanut planting kit for each student. It was so amazing to watch them grow. As a young teenager looking to take over a raised bed offered to me in my parents garden, I chose to grow peanuts one summer, and what a harvest! Thank you Jimmy!

    • I had trouble commenting on your site using my phone so will do so here. Fascinating window into urban Indian life. Especially interesting to hear that it is common for people to grow tulsi and curry plants. I love that you chose tomato first.

  19. My first recollection of gardening was helping my mum and dad plant Hollyhock seeds in a row against the side of our house…I was probably about 5 years old. The seeds came from my dad’s parents’ farm near Ottawa. Every year after, the hollyhocks reseeded themselves and grew tall with lovely variety of coloured flowers and I remember my parents giving away lots of seed heads to friends and neighbours. My dad loved flowers and he came home often from his work with free iris tubers (which I have in my garden), dahliah bulbs and sweet william seeds and peony roots. I have lovely memories of these flowers growing profusely around my home and when I got married in June, 1966, my mom provided my wedding table flowers….her fragrant peonies. Thanks for the opportunity to think back to the early years of my life and write about such precious times.


    “I don’t actually remember my first plant, or my second. I am sure though, as a small girl, that I claimed some plants in our garden, sprouted potatoes and avocado pits in school, and so on. Recently, this writing prompt from urban gardening guru Gayla Trail, provoked some thoughtful reminiscing.

    What I do remember about the “early” plants is divided into two categories – indoor plants and outdoor plants. I didn’t know much about either for the first two decades of my life.”

    Visit the link for the full post. Thanks, Gayla, for the great prompt!

  21. Thank you for thinking up and implementing this fresh, welcome invitation to gardeners and garden writers to dig deeper and connect with one another as healers, supporters, and community members. I am VERY excited to participate in this, and look forward to reading the work shared in the YGG community as well as working out my own responses to future prompts.

    Here is my post. Again, thank you. And thanks to everyone who is participating. I look forward to getting to know you all through your writing.

  22. I began by learning to care about my grandmother’s Lilac and Hydrangea garden because of this memory…I’m four years old, wearing a pair of rolled up denim shorts – no shirt, but a pair of dingy white go-go boots. My cousin and I are sitting between our grandmother’s house and a large bush with beautiful purple/blue and white colored flowers surrounding us in bloom and fragrance. We are filling an old wash tub with the petals we are pulling from the bush. We are sneaking these petals because we’ve been told to wait for them to fall off, but really want to fill the tub because they smell so good and the ones on the ground are brown and slimy. I ask my cousin, “What are these flowers called?” having recently learned that each “flower” has it’s own name. She replied, “I think these are ‘lie-locks.” When she said “lie” we both stopped pulling the petals and looked at one another for a really long time. Without saying a word we buried the petals we had gathered under the shrub and crawled out into the yard…

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