When did my favourite reading become a seed catalogue?
Such publications are fascinating, really. A wealth of information, tidily packaged into concise boxes with pictures, descriptive text, and icons for growing seasons and heirloom status. Though not strictly necessary, some include the occasional poetic praise of taste, colour, or general aesthetics that bring life to an otherwise plain-jane vegetable. Tokyo Cross turnips, for example, are described by the West Coast Seeds 2010 Gardening Guide as “…so smooth and pretty and with tidy tops too.” One wonders if there are Japanese radish charm schools. The Marian rutabaga is “a globe-shaped root with an attractive creamy-coloured interior and purple shoulder….” I’ll never look at a root vegetable the same way.
From a careful read through the catalogue, one can select the vegetable varieties that will grow the largest, fastest, soonest, easiest, and (subjectively) best. Alternatively, one could select the prettiest, strangest, coldest (season or climate), or oldest (a long history of cultivation). Varieties are plants within the same species that have different characteristics, such as colour or size, and may prefer different growing conditions. Vegetable varieties provide such a wide range of growing and eating experiences that the gardener must make deliberate choices.
I found myself planting near the end of July. When other gardeners are reaping the bounty of vegetables sown early in the year, I was just getting going. This meant that I would need varieties that ripen before winter—when the cold either kills plants or makes them dormant, depending on their constitution. I was also looking for overwintering varieties that could be harvested in early spring. I found what I was looking for in the form of mescluns and lettuce, scallions and leeks, spinach and chard, carrots and fennel, and garlic. I also found a keener of a veggie—the radish— that would satisfy my desire to see quick progress and assure myself that yes, they really will grow. My trusty seed catalogue had it all.
Not having done this before, I agonized over what to plant where. Which will grow tall and shade others, which need room above ground and which need it below, and what should go beside the carrots to ward off carrot rust fly? (I hear it’s a problem.) It’s just a small garden, but it’s brimming with seed in straight rows, neatly labeled, and now in various states of germination. Everyone is all tucked in, snug in their raised bed.
So why am I still reading this catalogue?