Yesterday we took a look at one of the lesser known efforts to find a peaceful use for the power of the atom, the gamma garden. Mini atomic gardens were also a part of the Atoms for Peace movement, an outgrowth of the efforts of many scientists who had been engaged in atomic research during WWII to speak publicly about their research and science in general, and the hope that the fruits of their labor could be used to bring good into the world. Gardeners around the world were encouraged to be part of the grand experiment of the atomic world by buying irradiated seeds, and carefully following the changes of the plants as they grew, to see if any permanent mutation came out of them.
One of the primary salesmen for the irradiated seeds was a man named C.J. Speas, who had a small bunker in his back yard, in which was a small, Atomic Energy Commission sanctioned Cobalt-60 source. He would slide trays into the radioactive portion of his cinder block bunker, and then sell those at garden shows and through magazine ads. He was even feature in Life magazine, showing off his seed lab to school groups.
The other key promoter in the world of atomic gardening was a British lady by the name of Muriel Howorth. A fan of the possibilities of the nuclear age, she had founded two societies that aimed to promote atomic science to the general populace, and came to discover gardening in a round-a-bout way. S he hosted a dinner party at the Royal Commonwealth Society, London in 1959, and one of the items on the menu was a strain of peanuts that had been exposed to X-ray radiation to induce mutation. After the dinner, stuck with leftover peanuts, she planted some of the peanuts to see what would happen. The plant grew, and as apparently the first irradiated seeds to grow in England, became a bit of a celebrity. Out of this grew the Atomic Gardening Society, complete with a manual on atomic gardening.
“I now felt that by some stroke of luck which is difficult to ascribe to chance, I had been given the opportunity—so much longed for—to bring science right into the homes of the people. I organized an ATOMIC GARDENING SOCIETY to co-ordinate and safeguard the interests of ATOMIC MUTATION EXPERIMENTERS who would work as one body to help scientists produce more food more quickly for more people, and progress horticultural mutation.” (gardenhistorygirl)
There are no real numbers on just how wide-spread the atomic gardening fad was, nor how most of the irradiated seeds fared out in the world, which ones stuck around with positive mutations. Some of you may be familiar with the idea of irradiated seeds from the 1964 Paul Zindel play, The Effect of Gamma-Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Anybody out there happen to have an old seed packet in the attic or the shed, leftover from the age of brimming atomic optimism?