Monday, January 15, 2007

Pansies in the post, mesclun in the mail

When we think of December mail, we think of the fun of holiday cards and packages arriving on our doorstep. Now that it’s January, the excitement is over for most people, who expect nothing more exciting then bills and the offer of more credit cards to pay off those holiday expenses. But not for gardeners. January means the thrill of finding seed catalogs in your mailbox!

These days, it’s only a passing thrill when I bring in the mail - “Oh, another catalog! I’ll have to find a chance to look at that tonight!” So far the only browsing my new catalogs have seen are from the grandkids. Joshua spent several nights engrossed in the bright photos of an oversized Burpee catalog, assigning fruit and vegetables to people like place settings at a table. “MY stahbellies”......”Papa’s beans”......”Gammy’s cawhots.” I discovered, after that fact, that eight month old Anastasia had browsed another of my catalogs, but mainly with her chubby little hands and her two new front teeth. Sigh.

There was a time, however, when the arrival of a new catalog sent me into spasms of joy that could have compared to the arrival of a new Harry Potter book! That was the peak of my gardening years a time when I had acres of land at my disposal and small children that kept me home with my feet in my own soil. That was also before my house became home to a herd of cats who felt it was their feline duty to destroy each and every seedling that dared peek it’s head above an open flat of peat moss.

The last year I tried to start my garden from seed, I was armed with a plan. I decided to turn an entire metal utility shelf into an inpenetrable greenhouse. I went to the local Walmart and filled my shopping cart with duct tape and rolls of heavy plastic sheeting. This was coincidentally the year that the newly created Department of Homeland Security had just suggested Americans could protect themselves from a terrorist attack of germ warfare by going out and buying.... yep, duct tape and plastic sheeting. I wasn’t thinking of that when I got up to the checkstand, my mind was busy pondering if I should buy any extra grow lights or potting soil while I was out. As I began unloading my cart onto the counter, the cashier looked down at all that duct tape and plastic sheeting and then she looked at me, one eyebrow raised quizzically, as if I had just done something highly amusing. And a grow light, er, light bulb went on in my head - “Oh, no! That is not why I’m buying all this stuff!” She just raised both eyebrows and tried not to laugh. She checked me out while I futilely continued to defend both my honesty and my I.Q.

After all that humiliation and the subsequent work creating my indoor, cat proof greenhouse, the duct tape and plastic didn’t work to keep the cats out of the seedlings anyway, although they did have a bit more difficulty getting back out of my homemade greenhouse once they were already inside. I gave up trying to grow my own seeds after that, sadly forgoing tangy heirloom green zebra striped tomotoes and snowy white Italian eggplant that hung round as chicken eggs amongst the plant's dusty green leaves. No longer stringing up indoor lights or mixing new and improved germination mediums by February, I had to postpone the first gardening thrill of a new growing season for another month or two until the ground unfroze enough to pop peas and beets directly into the ground and even more months before the boring selection of hybrid tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants began showing up in the limited local nurseries.

Still, gardening catalogs aren’t completely useless, even if I'm not in a position where I can order anything out of them. It’s still a pleasure in dreary January for me to curl up with a steaming mug of tea and lose myself in the pages full of color. Green in as many shades as there are plants to model them. Beefsteak reds, sunflower golds, carrot orange, rose pinks, lavender uhm... lavenders. In Jaunary my dreams can run unchecked as I work my way through a section of root vegetables (ooooh, I want to grow those baby turnips again!), wind through herbs (I really need to plant all FIVE types of basil!) and dawdle in perennials (I’m sure there’s enough room for a row of veronica on that side of the walkway).

With the ground outside asleep (and in a typical year, under a blanket of snow) anything is still possible. There’s no reason yet to dash my fantasies against the hard edge of reality - like that I have only so much space and so much time to spend in the garden and in the last few years, that's been very little time indeed. And that my growing season is too short, I still haven’t tackled that infestation of sorrel and grass in the front flower bed, and that it's too dry and shady in the other half of the yard for me to grow half the things I fantasize growing there.

Nope. In January, there’s still time to enjoy the garden that could be, that I’d create if all things were possible. By the time gardening season comes round in truth, long months from now in April, or more likely May (sometimes not even until June), long after the time I could place an order in any of these gardening "wish books", I’ll be so happy to see green again, real, honest to goodness living, chlorophyll producing, breathing, spring wind GREEN, that it won’t matter to me at all that most of it is in the form of a wild and unruly garden of weeds.


If, unlike me, you do have the time and cat free location to start some plants from seed this year, here are a few of my favorite seed catalogs:

Pinetree Garden Seeds - what I liked best about this catalog is that the seeds come in no nonsense packages but you can buy variety packs perfect for the small family garden, allowing you to have a little bit of many varieties or to try something new. They used to have small sample seed packets as well.

The Cook's Garden - this one ties with Pinetree as my favorite catalogs to actually order from. There's lots of variety for those of us who want to grow something unusual. Added benefits, these catalogs are full of the beautiful artwork of Mary Azarian and have recipes for using the foods you grow. I like that this is a family owned business, although it's not the only catalog that is worthwhile thriving small business. They also offer variety packs of vegetables.

Seeds of Change - organic and heirloom seeds

Territorial Seed Company - a nice full catalog with lots of information on how much to plant and how to grow it.

Johnny's Selected Seeds - another company that offers a variety of heirloom and/or organic choices.

Richter's - probably your largest selection for herbs, common or rare

Select Seeds - for heirloom flowers

White Flower Farm - I've never had the opportunity to actually order from this catalog but it's a beautiful catalog with lots of eye candy.

I've probably missed a few, but this is more then enough to get you started. You can visit these catalogs online or take a few minutes to order their free catalogs delivered to your home. They might not arrive until February, but I'm betting you'll still need a shot of green in your life by then.


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