GARDEN WORKS: Gardening from an easy chair

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

Plan your dream garden while it snows

As I type this article, snow is gently and gracefully descending from the sky to my yard. I look out the window, captivated. It’s hard to be inspired to work in the garden when it’s snowing. However, there is a different – and some say as exciting – way to get your green thumb fix, all in the comfort and convenience of a cozy armchair. If snuggling up to a seed catalog comes to mind, then we’re on the same page. What other publications evoke such passion and nostalgia?

Our mailboxes and the cyber world are filled with all kinds of catalogs this time of year, begging for our attention. The glossies have their impossibly perfect pictures of flawless specimens, raising our hopes sky high that our gardens will likewise produce such beauties. One catalog offers what seems an unbelievable deal and another has a coupon for a specified amount of “free” merchandise (or shipping) if the cost of your order reaches a certain total. Another catalog claims unmatched quality and another has varieties that are “exclusive.” And yet another catalog is brimming with full-color photos of rare and endangered varieties that are so unusual you would wonder what planet they were from.

So many choices! So much hype! How can a practical-minded gardener keep it simple and affordable, yet remarkable and pleasant? Here are some hints, I hope they help:

First, I should mention that the best seeds are likely the ones you or your friends and neighbors lovingly saved from last year and thoughtfully maintained. However, when purchased seeds from a catalog are desirable, check the reviews for the seed company. Dave’s Garden and other online forums are oftentimes helpful to sift out the “bad seeds.” Also, make sure their offerings will grow in our cold northern climate. (Some companies actually grow their crops in warmer locations, yet market those varieties as being suitable for northern growers.)

Usually it is possible to tell if they are a “seedy” enterprise or not, especially when their catalog is honest in its descriptions as opposed to inflated hyperbole. Be realistic! A good rule of thumb is to order from a catalog where the seeds were grown in Maine or another location similar to ours. I have always had good results doing business with Maine companies such as Fedco, Johnny’s and Pinetree. Give these guys a try; each is a unique, high-quality seed company that has never disappointed me. All of them offer valuable heirlooms for small gardens as well as worthy commercial varieties for markets. Look for early bird specials, consider group ordering possibilities, and save on shipping by picking up your order whenever practical.

If you are looking for something truly unique that cannot be found anywhere else, read the descriptions carefully. Pay attention to the days to maturity and growing zones. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company and Sand Hill Preservation Center are both seed companies I would highly recommend for rare and heirloom varieties. Also check out the Seed Savers Exchange and Territorial Seed Co if you are interested in something different. Happy seed-searching!

 
 

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