A tiny orchard is flourishing in Jett Gulbronsen's spare bedroom, 10,000 miles from the South African garden where she collected them from seed.

Through the sturdy seedlings, each about a foot tall, she has forged an unlikely connection with the late Nelson Mandela.

During his last 14 months of imprisonment for anti-apartheid activity, the man who would become his country's president occupied himself by tending a garden outside his cottage at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre. He often planted seeds scavenged from kitchen fruits.

One seed Mandela planted is now a 25-foot lime tree. It was that tree that produced the fruit from which Gulbronsen took her own seeds.

She and her husband, Daniel, were touring South Africa in April after winning the trip in a wine auction. One of their stops was the prison where Mandela was held before his 1990 release.

The private tour was led by the warden who oversaw the prison during Mandela's time.

"I picked up two limes from beneath the tree and he gave them to me," says Gulbronsen, an independent human resources specialist.

At first she regarded them as curios, like seashells. She nonetheless removed the seeds, put them in a plastic bag with moist paper and tucked them into a shoe in her suitcase.

Back home, with help from King's Nursery, she planted them in cardboard cartons. Out of 45 seeds, 25 sprouted.

She's already given three away. Two went to terminally ill people to help them focus on something living. The other went to an ill neighbor.

"I gave her one," Gulbronsen says, "to help her on her journey to get better."

She is lovingly tending the remaining trees. "I talk to them every day. I think it helps," she says, laughing.

She'll save them for people she thinks could benefit from "the positive energy" of the courageous reformer who planted the original mother tree.