A Tribute to Blane Bourgeois: One of America's Great Modern Seed Savers

Longtime seed saver Blane Bourgeois' life is remembered in this touching tribute that tells the story of his commitment to the preservation of heirloom seeds.

  • Lifelong seed saver Blane Bourgeois.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • "Blane's love for nature permeated all that he did. His philosophy was simple: Try to live in harmony with nature and appreciate all of the amazing beauty around us."
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

I first met Blane Bourgeois after a pilgrimage of sorts some 10 years ago. As my kids and I approached his house there was suspense; would he be friendly? Would he invite us to visit? Or would he shoo us away? We had not prewarned of our visit, as it was hard to reach Blane by phone, so we were taking our chances and just dropping in. We made our way south of Salem, Arkansas, following an old timer’s directions; passing the mentioned “old church on the right,” we saw the little gravel road veering off sharply to the left. We turned and hit the next corner; this was Blane’s road, Mulberry Lane, we had arrived. The trees shadowed the way and it was pretty obvious when we came to his property that everything was planted in a most amazing fashion … diversity abound. Tall purple perilla plants waved in the breeze against Jerusalem artichokes, giant leeks, Mongolian buckwheat, pole beans, and mints of every sort. Blane was in the front yard when we pulled in. He greeted us with a “Cool, man ... welcome!” His gardening outfit was a blue hospital scrub shirt, jeans, clog-like sandals, and a weathered straw hat. It wasn’t long before our bond as fellow seed collectors was solidifying; we knew that we had found a new friend.

Motioning to a vegetable patch out yonder, “That’s where the tomatoes are,” Blane escorted us out into his gardens and pointed out hundreds of rare varieties he was growing out for seed. His tomato plots had dozens of heirloom varieties and he was busy harvesting his early potato crop.

Everywhere on the property there were potted plants, seedlings and the initiation of the next gardening project. Blane took us into his little house. It was a home stuffed with botanical and musical wonders; books were piled table-high on the floor, a myriad of vials, jars and sachets of essential herb oils, herbal extracts, and packets of dried herbs were arranged haphazardly in cabinets all over the house.

Seed packets were ubiquitous and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them spread throughout the house, greenhouses and sheds! Several freezers were in the kitchen, not with food in them, but rather seeds. Blane and his girlfriend of the time, Kelly McClure, worked extraordinarily hard to protect this collection of food crops; between the both of them they maintained over 2,500 varieties and landraces of vegetables. Blane’s seed saver career started after he finished his degree in marine biology. He recounted his first day on the job, “I was hired by Chevron as a Marine Biologist; the first task they put me to was determining how much chemical 'pollution' shrimp could take before dying! That was my first assignment. I thought that was odd, I wanted to study marine life to protect it, not to spend my time figuring out how much poison it could take before dying! I quit and never turned back.”

After leaving his short-lived career as a Chevron marine biologist, Blane went back to the family homestead and lived like Ralph Waldo Emerson, immersed in the nature around him. For many years, Blane’s girlfriend, Kelly McClure, shared the “natural” life and the accompanying tasks with him. Together they ran Horus Botanicals. This little seed company would become known for the couple’s unique heirloom collections and botanical oddities, many of it having never been available before or since. Years later, when Kelly and Blane parted ways, Blane was so overburdened with all the grow-outs that he was to become hermetic; he gave up his efforts to supply commercial seed requests and stopped communicating with most people. He dedicated his time to growing vegetables and writing music. Blane loved music and could play a phenomenal number of instruments. One of his favorite artists was Loreena McKennitt. I remember her songs very well; once my kids and I “camped” at Blane’s cottage and we were treated to one of Blane’s favorite McKennitt songs, “The Mummer’s Dance,” from the album “The Book of Secrets.” Blane turned his stereo up full blast and it played over and over through the night. It was that “song night” that my kids consider to this day one of their fondest “seed friend” memories! The lyrics of that song are especially relevant to Blane’s life and I quote a few of them below to show why.

“When in the springtime of the year/ When the trees are crowned with leaves/ When the ash and oak and the birch and yew/ Are dressed in ribbons fair/ A garland gay we bring you here/ And at your door we stand/ It is a sprout well budded out/ The work of our Lord’s hand/ The songs of birds seem to fill the wood/ That when the fiddler plays/ All their voices can be heard/ Long past their woodland days.”

Become a Preferred Subscriber and start enjoying the benefits today!

Fall in love with the flavor, versatility, and beauty of Mother Earth Gardener

Mother Earth GardenerDelight your taste buds, mind and eyes with beautiful photos and inspirational techniques on everything you need to know to grow, preserve and cook your own heirloom fruits and vegetables. You won’t want to miss the stories about plants passed down from generation to generation.

Don’t miss a single issue of Mother Earth Gardener. Published by the editors of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Mother Earth Gardener provides decades of organic gardening experience from the most trusted voices in the field. Join today and save off the newsstand price! Get one year (4 issues) for only $24.95! (USA only)

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube