A deep time seed futures experiment for Windmill Community Garden in Long Island City, Queens, NY. May 2018–May 2098.

For Here Lie Sleeping Seeds, NESL re-stages an experiment started by botanist Dr. William James Beal in 1879.

Seeking to learn “something more in regard to the length of time seeds of some of our most common plants would remain dormant in the soil and yet germinate when exposed to favorable conditions”, Beal packed a mixture of seeds and sandy soil into glass vials and buried them. He unearthed them every twenty years to see what would still germinate. The study continued after his death, with the most recent unearthing happening in spring 2000, when some seeds still sprouted and produced viable plants. You can read about the original study here. NESL has selected an assortment of seeds from our library with which to repeat the experiment. All chosen species are known to have long seed viability. Common mullein and evening primrose both sprouted after decades in Dr. Beal’s experiment.

On April 21, 2018, NESL buried four vials beneath slate paving stones in the Windmill Community Garden in Long Island City. The vials were marked with the dates when they will be unearthed: 2038, 2058, 2078 and 2098. A plaque noting their presence was mounted on the wall above the burial spot. We invite visitors who visit the garden to contemplate what life might be like for these seeds if they sprout in 2038, or even 2098. What kind of world will they find? As tough, weedy seeds, well they be able to adapt to a changing climate? To whatever humans have wrought? To the adaptations of the insects that pollinate them, or eat them?

Species selected for the experiment include common mullein, evening primrose, white sweet clover, and curly dock.

Founded by Ellie Irons and Anne Percoco in 2015, The Next Epoch Seed Library is an artist seed library focused on collecting, saving and sharing the seeds of wild urban plants. NESL would like to thank Lorissa Reinhart, Nat Roe, and Flux Factory for organizing the Wilder LIC exhibition, in Windmill Community Garden, as well as NATURE Lab interns Hazelle Lerum and Angel Hsu for their assistance in sorting and packaging the seeds.

Photos below from the installation process, taken by Lorissa Rinehart.