Musical Shutters (c) Kristin Espinasse
The melody of flower seeds, in today's story.... Why not forward this edition to a green thumb, or main verte?

une semence (seuh mahnce)

    : seed

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

En agriculture, une semence est une graine sélectionnée pour être seméeIn agriculture, a seed is a grain selected for sowing. --Wikipedia

Improve your French now: buy a copy of The Ultimate French Verb Review and Practice  

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

The Significant Matter of Seeds
(or, for a more soulful title, how about "Inner Growth" or, simply, "Seed Junky"?) 

I recognize it as a little bit obsessive, the manner in which I've been stalking our flowers... especially the Belles de Nuit, or Beauties of the Night. I can't seem to leave them alone! It isn't that their yellow or fuchsia blossoms and their long confetti-tipped tongues have a hold on me... No. My infatuation, these days, centers on those inky, grenade-shaped seeds! 

But the Belles de Nuit aren't the only graines that stir up these feelings. Have you seen what the hollyhocks put out? Or the coquelicots or the morning glory? Whether flat as a disk (indeed, some seeds resemble mini-CDs!) or tiny as a grain of sand--their forms are as fascinating as the flowers that come of them.

And have your ears ever experienced a seed jamboree? The larkspur are quite the melody-makers! Encased as they are in fluted coques all it takes is bumping into a dry branch-gone-to-seed to set the tiny "tambourines" drumming. I love to stand in the garden, shaking a stem of dried delphinium husks. Inside, the tiny black seeds ricochet off the dry walls and, now more than tambourines, I wonder whether it is cymbals I'm hearing?... the effect is jazz, blues, soul-stirring... 

Of all the pleasures of seeds, freeing them is the most thrilling. Pinch certain pods and they'll burst! Drop a dried, boomerang-shaped husk of a California poppy (the shell so different from that of the Provençal variety).. drop it into a sack and it will explode on contact! Others (read Amaranthus) come out of their furry hideouts only after a good thwacking against a stone murette. The powdery black seeds are tiny as spider teeth!

Not all seeds are visible to the eye and with certain flowers you wonder where their offspring are hidden. The little yellow faces framed by white petals of the feverfew are perplexing and the idea of a seedless flower is distressing... Unsure of how to proceed, I collect the dried blossoms and trust that, once in the paper bag, they'll break down in time to release some sort of powder-fine progeny. 

On the subject of storing seeds, I do it haphazardly, saving up paper sacks or stealing envelopes from my husband's home office... I enjoy marking the packages "Mixed flowers" or "artichokes" or "sunflowers" or "rose trémière: noir!"... before storing them in the kitchen armoire, where they vie for shelf space with the pastis and the pasta. I'll eventually move the sacks, emptying the dried contents into great glass jars (that's the plan, anyway)... For now I enjoy the close proximity of the seeds, which literally put the "campagne" in our country kitchen.

If I'm feeling reckless, I might forgo the drying and the classifying of the seeds -- in favor of scattering them willy-nilly. Chances are they'll be eaten by granivores... Risking this, I'll toss a handful of just-picked hollyhock seeds next to the clothesline, or spray poppy seeds over near the beehive mailbox, or send off a jet-stream of delphinium seeds in front of the telephone pole...  in my active mind's eye I see Jack's Beanstalk rising and I am filled with awe... at the potential of a tiny inert speck of organic matter! 

Yes! Of all the reasons to marvel before a humble seed, the thing that most inspires me... is a seed's sacred mystery. I am reminded of a favorite passage in The Door of Everything:

Let us return to the tomato seed and look at it more closely. Is it strictly a seed, a little collection of molecules that cling together in a certain way to form a certain kind of matter? If you had never seen a tomato seed, and had never heard of a tomato, the seed probably would appear to be no more than an insignificant bit of matter capable only of a short, unproductive existence followed by decay. 

However, if someone told you about the tomato seed, explaining that within those apparently inactive molecules a divine pattern was held in waiting, eager to come forth, a pattern for a fragrant, leafy plant which would flower and bear delicious fruit, you would find it hard to believe. Knowing nothing at all about the reality of tomatoes, you probably could not visualize such an impossible thing as a big green plant with red fruit growing out of an uninteresting-looking seed. You would, no doubt, laugh uproariously at the quaint idea that all you had to do was bury it under the dirt, then keep it watered, and the forces of nature would co-operate with it to bring about its amazing change of form.


This post is dedicated to Malou and Doreen. Read the story "Altruism in the Garden" about the Dirt Divas backbreaking efforts to raise a flower bed from the concrete ashes of our garden. The fruits, or seeds, of their labor are, truly, an eternal gift. 

Le Coin Commentaires 
Ever harvested seeds? Understand that giddy feeling? Share your thoughts, here, in the comments box.


Re the "tomato seed" passage above, it is from a book that my mom gave me. "I was a little hesitant to share it with you," Mom admitted, "it's a little new-agey...". I'm so glad Jules took the risk and shared The Door of Everything with me! Click here to order the book.


 French Vocabulary
(under construction. Check back soon for the translated terms, or offer your own in the comments box.) 

Pictured: The Artichoke seed harvest. It was messy, sticky, and scratchy! Can't wait to plant the seeds!

In French music: Putumayo Presents: Paris
My sister-in-law enjoyed the Persepolis book. There is also the French film: Persepolis 

Thank you very much for reading! Do you know of anyone else who might enjoy French Word-A-Day? Please pass it on! A sign-up form can be found here. (Photo taken in Alsace, in Colmar, last month).

"Caked On"read a bilingual story written by our 13-year-old daughter "On The Right To Wear Makeup!" (The English version follows the French text).

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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With summer here and with flowers in bloom, it is no wonder that you appreciate the significance of Seeds (des une semences)! Indeed a great blog for Learning French!

Bill in St. Paul

I love the hanging signs that are all over Alsace. I have a picture of one from a butcher which has on top of the bar for the sign a boy and a dog taking a pig to market. My favorite flowers for seeds are my wife's impatiens which have little pods that explode when squeezed and fling their seeds out. (Now if I just took the time to capture those seeds and plant them in the Spring, I could save myself some dollars that go to replanting the impatiens every year.)

William Mears (and Lee)

What are the beautiful white seeds in your picture? Lee Mears

Amber...Peoria, IL

I don't think the passage from The Door Of Everything is "new-agey"'s spot on! So many people do not know WHERE their food comes from! I am teaching my children this lesson. We harvest the seeds from watermelon and pumpkin and grow them. My seven year old wanted to plant corn, so we did...from a seed my girls witnessed the growth not only of a plant, but their food. We should look at these things with wonder and amazement! Thanks, chere Kristin!

Linda R.

I love the orchestra of seeds you have created - each one different than the other and each one holding the promise of a new bouquet in another season.

Robyn Mixon

Kristin--first, I love love love the musical shutters--so beautiful--and thought u would enjoy this quote about doors--it seems to apply to so many things in life, including seeds:
“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” Flora Whittemore


Love your pictures - was in Colmar for the flea market a few years ago. Could have stayed a lot longer. Who knew seeds could be so beautiful - your pictures are inspiring.

Kristin Espinasse

Lee, I forgot to label that picture: those are artichoke seeds.

Bill, Ive got to get some of those impatiens!

Robyn, love that quote - thanks!


Tomato seeds may look similar, but the difference shows in the leaves. I planted four different kinds of tomatoes this year and am amazed at the difference in the leaves, even before the fruit appears. Some leaves are pointed while others are rounded. Some are smooth while others are textured or grainy. If the photos on the packets show the leaves, that helps to identify each type since the markers that I put down tend to wander off on their own. Isn't it amazing how that happens?

I love the photos of the violin windows.

BAFA Studio

This was such a fun post. Love shutters, windows, doors, seeds, the quote from Robyn (Flora)... and I am always passing along this glorious blog to those who might be interested in learning French and those that aren't, but are writers. Love your stories, photos. Love to Jules!

Bruce T. Paddock

Kristin -

Loved the post, and the pictures. It's funny how those two shades of blue and yellow on the tiny bit of awning below the window — even as dirty as they are — just scream Provence.

"Semence" was a new one for me (as most of your words are), but I am familiar with "pépin." Is there a difference between the two, or are they just two words for the same thing?


Jewelweeds, members of the same Impatiens family that Bill mentions, grow along irrigation ditches around here (in the same places one finds wild asparagus) and bloom late summer. They are familiarly called touch-me-nots because touching them causes the pod spring to uncoil and pop the seed hither and yon. Despite the name "touch-me-not" they are actually good to touch because the leaves contain a natural skin ointment--good to squeeze some if you accidentally touch some poison ivy.

Having seen your artichokes blooming earlier this summer, I especially enjoyed seeing their seeds! Artichokes and daisies and sunflowers and lots of similar flowers are members of the Composite family. each part of the disk (artichoke) or ray (sunflower) is an entire flower. what we see is a composition of a bunch of flowers appearing as one bloom. hence, all the seeds!

Robyn Mixon

Pépin is a larger seed or pip, like the seeds of an apple, orange or grapefruit.

Marianne Rankin

I've "harvested" seeds from avocados and grapefruit, which produce attractive plants, but for some reason, no fruit; maybe they have to be pollinated.

I've tried to harvest seeds from flowering plants,such as petunias, but they don't bloom - maybe because of extremes of hot and cold temperatures. I've pretty much decided to buy seedlings instead of growing my own.

You mention seeds from amaryllis, but don't amaryllis grow from bulbs? Or are you referring to a different variety?

Today's post was interesting - I've never read anything similar about seeds before.

Kristin Espinasse

Marianne, Oops! I should have written amaranthus. 
Gary, fascinating info. Thank you!

Jules Greer

Hi Kristi,

It was worth getting dressed to come to the Coffee Cup for your special story this morning.

As I told you over and over when you were a young girl, "You are a special rose bud just waiting to bloom!" - and you are truly blooming in France. I am so happy your life has taken all the different paths it has so you could arrive in this fertile soil of Provence. Of course you are my little seed....which makes me so happy.



Jim from Carlsbad

Hard to pick a favorite flower, but if I had to it would be the Sweet Pea - such a treat in both the olfactory and visual sense. And long after the flowers have been picked and the leaves have yellowed, the final joy is collecting those pods full of the promise of another summer!

Jan in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)

We have a tall flower called policeman's helmet, which has seed pods that explode at a touch when they are dry in the fall. Children (and some big children) get a kick out of touching them to watch the explosion. In fact they a member of the impatiens family -- called that because of their "impatient" nature of exploding seed pods, as Bill mentioned.

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

One summer over 10 years ago when the family was visiting Little Cranberry Island, ME, my mother harvested lupine seeds. Three years ago I came across them in a plastic bag, planted them, and in early June they bloom into tall purple plumes. When the go to seed, I harvest them and share them with friends. The wonderful thing about flower seeds that are gathered or given as a gift, you never forget where they came from so each bloom brings back wonderful memories.


After my mother passed away (1997), I harvested the seeds from her favorite flowers in her garden and, after dividing them among a few small plastic bags, I mailed a packet of seeds with a note about them to each of her cherished girlhood friends to plant in their gardens.

Kristin Espinasse

Mom, so happy to see your note. Thank you for every word. Wish you were here to harvest with me!

Suzanne and Marie-Louise, when I read that the seeds (in your stories) were stored in plastic bags, I thought about how I had done the same... putting sunflower seeds in recycled (plastic) breadbags. I was so bummed to find that the seeds had turned green with rot! This year's seeds went into paper bags only! I trust that yours were dried before they went into the plastic... I didn't think about that part when I stored my seeds in the plastic.

Jim, I've never had luck with sweet peas... but your story has me motivated to try again.

Also, Suzanne, glad you mentioned seeds as gifts. I think that is a wonderful idea!

Jan, your message reminds me of just how delightful flower names can be (I'm off to look up "police helmet" now...)


Loved the photo of the window. Paint chipped windows and doors(I call it character) make me want to peek in, especially when they use the lace curtains behind them. But I do have a they not sell paint in France ;) I fear that here in the states people have an obsession with everything needing to be new and pristine.....too bad as the real beauty comes only with age, sort of like people themselves. My little cottage is 103 years old which for California is ancient! But it works just fine for me.
Oh the seeds! Unfortunately this last year the only ones that seemed to self propogate in my garden were the weeds!

Rachel Rossos

A little off topic from the story, but I wanted to remark that the French music you link to (Putumayo's Paris CD) is one of my all-time favorite CDs. I bought it a few years ago in San Francisco and, while I was living there, it was basically the only thing I listened to in the car. Good recommendation! (:

Iris Mendels

Your post today opened my eyes----I am an avid gardener, but one of my main occupations in the summer and fall is" dead-heading" the flowers ( there must be a french equivalent for this strange term), this is to encourage more and continuous blooms, but it prevents seeds from developing. I havent been very successful with seed starting, so maybe I dont miss them.

gail bingenheimer

des outils de jardinage "gardening tools"
Le concombre et la courgette sont des plantes de même espèce.
The cucumber and the zucchni are plants of the same species.

Suzanne, Monroe Twp., NJ

Yes, I have always harvested them when they were completely dried. But if that's not possible, the paper bag option sounds just right.

Mary  Paulson

My husbands cousin visited us here from Sweden a few years back, and all he wanted to take home were seeds from flowers that grew in our yard. He reported sucess and was delighted. Made my day! Wonderful story Kristin.Paper bag, why didn't I ever think of it! perfect.....

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

I just had to comment..."tiny as spider teeth" sure brought a smile!

Also, a story came to mind while reading your line “bumping into a dry branch-gone-to-seed to set the tiny "tambourines" drumming". Late last summer, I was out in one of the flowerbeds cutting flowers for a bouquet for the table when I heard a sound which made me freeze…rattlesnake! It was curled up in the large penstemon plant only a few feet away. No one was harmed and I managed to catch and release the snake. Here’s where this is heading…this spring when I was trimming back the dry branches of the penstemon the seeds rattling around in the dead flower heads mimicked the rattle of the snake. Eek! I’m sure I did a little dance to their tune!

Like your mom, I have been thinking about how you, and thus your writing, are truly blossoming and am grateful to have your beauty in my life!

Jennifer in OR

I love seeds, too. Have always marveled at how this tiny covering holds the key to life, and how the dirt--the dirt!--and the sun and water provide enough for it multiply hundreds of times over to become a tomato, potato, or parsley, or whatever. It's absolutely AMAZING! My kids studied botany w/ me all this past year, so we *really* got into seeds. We drew and diagrammed them, we dissected them, experimented, harvested and saved them...and planted them.

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