Garden Catalogs

A Sampling of garden catalogs


Chances are if you’ve bought anything even vaguely garden related by mail, you receive at least some catalogs in the mail.  I can remember a time when these catalogs began to arrive right around the new year.  Now, like everything else, they begin to arrive around Halloween.  That’s fine by me. I set them aside in a stack to look at in the darkest days of winter–in other words, right about now.

I confess that I don’t keep all the catalogs I get–I’d be “snowed under” with paper.  And I also confess, that probably like most gardeners, I page through, fold down pages and dream about  the things in these catalogs but I cannot possibly order 1/10th of what is in them. For one thing, I am not indescribably wealthy, even in years when I have a lot of lectures.

For a second, after twenty plus years of living on the same piece of land, I am running out of room to put all of the things I would like to grow.  Yes, there are always containers, and yes, nature always give me “opportunities” in the way of dead plants but there are still fewer places to put plants now than there were when I moved here.

And I have different priorities than I did 20 or more years ago too. While I still garden organically as I did back then, and I still garden for wildlife, as I did back then, there are  other things to consider: I now consider things like native plants, which are more likely to adapt to the crazy weather patterns that we experience.  I also consider plants that require less “input” from me the gardener as I age. While there’s no such thing as a “no maintenance” plant (that would be a silk plant), there are those that require less work.

For example, while I love my hydrangeas, they are not native, they require an awful lot of water in dry summers and they have to be pruned, pretty severely, every spring.  For someone with severe arthritis, that’s quite a chore some springs.  So I don’t seek them out anymore. I will still enjoy those that I have, however–you won’t find me ripping them out just yet.

But that’s what I scour the catalogs for–lovely natives that might be workhorses like my hydrangeas someday.


Baker Creek Catalogs

I also look for interesting seeds.  When it comes to that, my favorite catalog is Baker Creek and it has been for decades.  Now that they’ve bought a seed house here in Connecticut (Comstock, Ferre & Company) I love them even more.

But there are other great heirloom seed companies as well.  Seed Savers Exchange is celebrating its 40th  year this year.  And Margaret Roach has an excellent summary of organic seed companies on her blog, A Way to Garden, which can be found here.

And finally, a shout out to Renee’s Garden, who is always generous to a fault with garden writers. She supplies seeds to us to test in our own gardens every year.  Sadly the last two years my readers will remember my battles with the critters (the critters won!) so I didn’t have much of a harvest from the seeds that the company provided.  But that is my own fault and not theirs, surely!  Check out some of their wonderful offerings (and remember, I have been compensated in free seeds by them).

Whether you’re starting seeds or looking for shrubs, the catalogs are a great reference.  I generally buy my seeds from the catalogs as well because I can be certain that I will get what I want (and shipping is not prohibitive.) I’ll talk about buying plants from catalogs on Monday.



We Bloggers Are Making Seeds Sexy!

Bloggers–and I don’t just mean garden bloggers here–but food bloggers too, I think, are responsible for a revolution that is happening in the food world.

A recent article in The New York Times talked about a conference at a Westchester New York conference center called Stone Barns.

Chefs were talking not only about Farm to Table, a movement that has gone mainstream, but about getting back to the beginnings of the “farm” sources–back to the very seeds that the farmers use to grow the produce for their tables.

This is a bit revolutionary, and I think blogs–both gardening blogs and food blogs–are directly to be credited for this. With so much emphasis on specific named varieties of vegetables and on heirloom varieties in particular, it only stands to reason that chefs would seek out more knowledge about these vegetables and their sources–the seeds from which these vegetables are grown

So food and garden bloggers, give yourselves a round of applause–you have influenced a movement!

The Politics of Backyard Vegetables

I’m going to take a break from the glories of spring here for a minute (since nature seems to be doing its best to skip spring anyway and to jump straight into summer this year without passing “Go” and collecting its $200) to talk about a hot button topic that I touched on last month in seed starting but I really didn’t have time to cover fully.

Lots of other bloggers are covering this topic and even food writers and bloggers are beginning to get into the discussion as they wonder “where is my food coming from?”

Many of us have decided to grow our own vegetables to be free of the worries of pesticide contamination and the dangers that come when food is imported–as a commodity–from other countries. Just last week it was reported that 17 food-borne illnesses were attributable to imported foods, 11 to fish and 6 to spices.  There’s a great reason to grow your own herbs!

If, however, you are buying many of the commercially popular seeds ( the “name brands” ) of vegetables, you may be unwittingly getting seeds that may be contaminated with GMOs or genetically modified organisms.   Why is this?  Because all of the seeds for all of the patented varieties of many of our best known vegetables are sold by a company called Seminis.  And who owns Seminis?  Monsanto, king of the GMO seed.

In many cases, you might not care–after all, Monsanto has been arguing for years that there has never been a case of anything attributable to GMO food.

If you, like me, however, are growing your own backyard food to avoid just such issues of “what if,” though,  here’s how you can avoid those vegetables.  Go to the Seminis web site.  There you will find a link to all the vegetable seeds they sell to every seed supplier on just about every continent.  Click on the vegetable you are trying to research.  For me, it’s all about the tomato–that’s my holy grail.

There you will find a list of 29 different tomatoes that Seminis supplies to the world–including such favorites as Better Boy, Roma VF, Patio, and Jetsetter.  Want cucumbers? Salad Bush and Marketmore 76 are theirs. Peppers? California Wonder, Chocolate Beauty and Cubanelle are among the names they own in sweet peppers. In hot peppers, they own Mucho Nacho, Caribbean,  Garden Salsa and Hungarian Hot Wax.  And the list goes on.

If you’d prefer not to go through this tedious inquiry, you can of course buy from companies that sell only non-GMO seeds.  There are several including one right here in Connecticut–our own Comstock, Ferre & Co.   It is owned by the same owners who own Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.  They put out a fabulous catalog (as well as a great heirloom magazine and they have written a wonderful book on growing a raising heirloom vegetables as well).

And no, I get nothing from talking about this wonderful company–I’ve just been a happy customer for years.