Seed Catalogs

 

Gardening friends, are you up for a re-run?

My article, below, orginally appeared on the Atlanta Gardening Forum. The website, run by a terrific gardener named Diane Cox, has just been revamped. It’s a great place to connect online and share your gardening questions, tips, stories, and photos. Check it out–there’s no charge to join.

After you do that—hope you enjoy these thoughts about seed catalogs:

“I used to think the first sign of spring was a yellow crocus sticking its nose up out of the thawing earth, or maybe a robin, bobbing for worms in a lawn made soggy by April rain. But spring really comes much earlier than that. For me, spring arrives on the morning I reach into my mailbox and find the first seed catalog of the season.

Even on the day after Christmas, a seed catalog is a welcome sight. As soon as I pack up the red holiday bows and chop up our evergreen branches for mulch, I’m winter-weary. I comb the local discount stores for signs of hope: a few leftover bulbs, still fat with promise for a late planting, or a tray of raggedgy-faced pansies to pot up for the porch. There’s not much else available, not much to hold me until I get my hands in the dirt again.

So I dream over seed catalogs instead, making lists like a child writing to Santa. The sum of my wants always alarms me, and I have to go back over my order, crossing out here and there. It’s tough to choose! Will it be new varieties of peas or petunias this spring? A feast for the plate or the eyes?

When the seeds arrive, I’ll take them to the basement. My husband’s rigged a grow lamp there, and I’ve saved disposable cups for seed beds. I shake the seeds out of their paper envelopes, some as fine as dust, and press them into the potting mix. A little water, a little sunlight in a warm corner of the kitchen, and ahhh–spring in a paper cup, promise in a pie pan.

I love seed catalogs, because they bring out the best in us as gardeners. And they bring out the best in us as human beings, because they give us hope. They let us believe in ourselves, and in our abilities, again.

When I plant each spring, I picture morning glories tangled on the fence and rows of corn marching military-straight across the back yard. By summer’s end, I usually find more tomato worms than tomatoes–and more zucchini than anything.

The best I can do then is sit down in the shade and take gardening philosophically. Real gardens aren’t perfect, seed catalogs notwithstanding. So I prop my hoe against a tree and settle for a nap in the hammock.

But I’m a gardener at heart, so I don’t take setbacks too seriously, or for too long. The seasons will turn again. One winter morning, I’ll hear the clunk of the mailbox door as another seed catalog arrives. Then I’ll plan again. And plant again. The seed sellers’ wish for us is that one summer evening, if we can straighten up long enough from our pile of just-pulled crabgrass, we’ll see one perfect, white moonflower unfurling its parasol blossom. Then, even if we never understand the how of gardening, we will understand the why.”

Copyright 2012 Lynn Coulter

Free Seeds from Plant Talk and Renee’s Garden

Talk about good timing! Just the other day, I blogged about Renee’s Garden, a wonderful mail order seed company based in California. Then today, I came across an offer for free seeds from Renee’s company.

Seattle gardening author and speaker Val Easton, who writes a blog called Plant Talk, is teaming up with Renee to give away seeds to readers who leave a comment on Val’s blog. Your comment should include a short list of “dream plants” you’d like to grow this year. Val will forward your list to Renee, who will then send you one or two packets of her choice. Pretty cool!

Alpine strawberries are on my list of 2012 “dream plants” to grow. I’ll either put them in hanging baskets or the strawberry jar that a neighbor gave me.

Do you know the trick for planting in strawberry jars, which can be difficult to water?

First, find a piece of PVC or plastic pipe with holes in it. Cut it long enough to fit all the way down inside your strawberry jar, with about an inch sticking up above the rim.

Ask someone to help you, or hold the pipe in the middle of the jar as you add potting soil all around it. Add your plants, putting some in the jar pockets, and some at the top, to add the inch of pipe that you left exposed. When you add water, pour it down the middle of the pipe. The holes will carry the water to the planting pockets up and down the sides.

Moonflowers are also on my list “dream plants” this year. If you’ve never grown them, they are beautiful flowers that open at night, and they’re especially attractive to those gorgeous, pale green Luna moths. The blossoms start out looking like tightly furled parasols, and remind me of morning glories when they’re fully open. They’re vining plants, so they need a trellis, fence, or other support to cling to. They’re not demanding or hard to grow, but germination can be tricky. I’ve had good results by either nicking the hard seed coats with a sharp knife, or by soaking them overnight in a glass of water, before I plant them.

I don’t know how long the free seed offer will go on, but I’m headed to Val’s Plant Talk blog right now to post a comment. See you there!

Sweet Peas for Your Sweetheart

'Heirloom Cupid' Windowbox Sweet Peas, from Renee's Garden.

Gardening friends, my first order of seeds for 2012 just arrived in the mail. These are from Renee’s Garden, a California-based company.

Renee Shepherd, the gardener behind the company, sells heirloom and gourmet vegetables, aromatic herbs, and cottage garden-style flowers. I’ve never been disappointed in any of her seeds, which you can find at some retail stores, or order online (she doesn’t offer a mail-order catalog).

Unfortunately, Renee’s site doesn’t list which retailers carry her seeds. That’s probably because it’s too hard to keep that kind of information updated. But you can email her, at customerservice@reneesgarden.com, to try to locate a nearby source. Or simply order online, which is what I do.

Renee’s site is packed with great info, like recipes, gardening tips, info on making herbal teas and vinegars, and much more. There are also links to magazines and newspapers that have interviewed Renee about gardening. After reading this New York Times piece on growing alpine strawberries, in which the writer describes picking the tiny, fresh berries and eating them with cereal and milk, I can hardly wait to try them.

Most of the seeds I ordered should be planted in April or later, because they’re frost-tender. But I did buy a variety of sweet peas called Heirloom Cupid.’ I’m going to try growing them, even though our weather usually warms up fast in the spring, and sweet peas prefer cool temps (they can even handle light frost).

The picture on the sweet peas packet charmed me into buying it. All of Renee’s packets started out as commissioned, original watercolors, and I love these flowers, which look heart-shaped and have a sweet perfume. This variety is also small enough to grow in window boxes or containers. Can’t you see giving a bouquet to your sweetie for Valentine’s Day?

Of course, I have to be realistic, even though beautiful flowers get me carried away. Sweet peas can be started in the fall, but I missed that planting season. They can also be sown starting in February, but that means mine won’t be in bloom by Feb. 14.

That’s okay. I’ll enjoy growing them and giving them to someone special anyway. I’ll let you know how they grow for me!

Gardening With – Doors? Add Color And Plants To Your Entrance

When I visited the Pike Nurseries garden center this weekend in Peachtree City, GA, I was looking for a few new houseplants to bring home, to tide me through the dreary winter days.  But here’s what I found instead: 3 displays of brightly-painted doors, arranged with color-coordinated plants.

I’ve been fascinated by doors for some time now. (Is anybody else pinning beautiful doors they’ve found on Pinterest? Love that site.) These appealed to me, in these shades of purple, lime green, and soft blue.

Admittedly, the plants in the display look like houseplants, and they wouldn’t survive outside in the Atlanta area, since our temps can drop below freezing during the winter.

But I like the concept of matching plants to an eye-catching door color, and I can envision using tropicals, perennials, and even annuals, in containers and  beds at the front of my house, once spring returns.

I also plant to re-paint our door when better weather arrives. Right now, it matches our shutters, which are medium blue. Not bad, but the door could be a lot livelier.  Maybe I can find a warm, deep red. If we don’t like it, it wouldn’t be much trouble to repaint it, even after one season.

If you decide to experiment with your front door this spring, here’s a great video with DIY guy Carter Oosterhouse: GMC Trade Secrets: How to Paint Your Front Door. I’m going to try his tip about photographing my house, cutting the front door out of the photo, and then sliding different paint chips behind the opening, to see how various colors would work.

Got a picture of your front door you’d like to share? I’d love to see it here. I’m always looking for inspiration for the garden!

A Devotional Booklet for Your Bible Study, Retreat, or Quiet Time

A big, big thanks to Kay Marks and the ladies of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arvada, Colorado, who created a lovely devotional booklet I can share with you! Here’s the cover:

 

 

Kay contacted me awhile ago, to ask if it was okay to reprint some of my gardening tips and devotional thoughts from a calendar we created to go with my first book, Gardening with Heirloom Seeds. I was happy to say yes! I love these kinds of booklets, and Kay is kindly allowing me to share the finished product with anyone who would like to use it for personal use (that is, group or individual use is okay, but it must be not-for-profit).

You can’t really appreciate the colors and artwork in the booklet from this picture, because my scanner let the colors bleed through (boo, crummy old scanner). But if you’d like a copy, please leave me a comment or email me lynn(at)lynncoulter.com. Then you can reproduce as many copies as you’d like. I’d recommend using a slightly heavier paper than ordinary office stuff, so the colors don’t show through. (Or use a good scanner/copier, LOL.)

The complete booklet is about 12 pages. We’re happy to share this with you, especially at Thanskgiving!

Lynn and Miss Paws

 

Brave Seeds

We had a fierce storm last night–I mean, fierce. The winds were so strong, they blew rain right through the window screens, into the house and all over the floor, which made me hop up out of bed, when I realized what was happening, and grab a mob.

But before I rescued our floors, I ran out to the porch, where I’d left a couple of trays of seedlings. I knew that our gutters were packed with the last of autumn’s leaves, and soon rain would be pouring onto the railings where the seed trays sat. I saved them in time, although they took a bit of a beating from all that water.

When I got up this morning, I made the picture you see above. Not very impressive, is it? Just a plastic tray with a few tiny green shoots coming up. Or maybe that’s all you see at first glance. Squint a little, please, and use your imagination, and maybe you’ll see more.

To me, these are brave little seedlings. They’re still small and fragile. One hungry bird could take them out in a quick peck, or they could collapse from a fungal disease, since this spring has been cool and wet. But they haven’t.  At least, not yet. They’re still standing, just growing their tiny hearts out.

Maybe it sounds silly, but I love that. Isn’t that what we are called to do, everyday? Sometimes we get pounded by the storms, and they can hit in our darker hours, when we’re feeling weak and defenseless. But you know something? We’re stronger than we guess, because we have have a living Spirit in us, just as these little plants have a life-spirit in them.

My seedlings made it through a bad-weather night, and now I’m looking forward to seeing them grow and bear fruit (tomatoes and peppers, in case you’re wondering). So, too, the Father waits for us to grow and bear fruit, and we can do this, because we know that the storms are not bigger or stronger than His love.

“…I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last….This is my command: love one another.” John 15:1-6-17, NIV

grace and peace,

Lynn

Think Pink

petunias pink

I was looking through some of my photos from last year when I noticed these petunias, on the right, and the just-opened rose, on the left. Both are pink, but they really are different colors, aren’t they? (Maybe your monitor looks different. Colors on computers can be deceiving, but the petunias definitely have a blue or lavender cast, to my eyes.)

Yesterday I visited my friend Lucy, who writes a wonderful cooking blog. We had a yummy lunch (she made chicken salad with red grapes on croissants, pimento cheese sandwiches, and served strawberries. And did I mention we had a homemade chocolate pie with real cream topping and an apple pie? I am currently pestering her for recipes.)

After lunch, Lucy showed me the pink lady slipper orchids popping up in her woods. I’ll post the pictures here tomorrow, I hope, but right now, the cord that connects my camera to the computer is  missing. (Does anyone else ever have this problem? Where do things go??)

Anyway, pink lady slippers are wildflowers, and they’re Georgia’s native orchids, but you can also find them in other parts of the country and particularly in the southeast. They pop up every spring in shaded woodlands or wetlands, but please, don’t disturb them. They dislike transplanting, so even if you are tempted to dig them up and take them home with you, they’d probably turn up their toes and die. Better to leave them in the wild for everyone to enjoy. They’re finicky about getting the perfect balance of soil, moisture, and light, and few of us can duplicate their natural conditions in our home gardens.

If you’re a wildflower fan, check out Celebrating Wildflowers, a site maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Click around, and you’ll find photos to help you identify what’s growing in your area, as well as lists of wildflower hikes, artistic events, and more.

Check back here soon. I’m headed into my woods later this week, armed with my camera. I’m looking for a tiny dwarf iris that I’ve seen in the past, but because I forgot to write down when I spotted it in years past, I’m having to watch for it very carefully right now. More to come!

Nasty as You Wanna Be

I read once that you should be nasty to nasturtiums.  Unfortunately, I can no longer put my grubby little gardener’s hands on the article that said this, and I haven’t seen exactly the same advice anywhere else.

Turns out you shouldn’t be downright mean to these pretty flowers with lily-pad shaped leaves. They don’t like to be transplanted, so it’s best to sow their seeds directly into the garden or containers, or in hanging baskets, as I’ve done this year. They need regular water and prefer lots of sun.

So I think the notion of treating them badly probably got started simply because they can grow just fine in poor to ordinary garden soil. If you give them extra nitrogen, you’ll wind up with more foliage than flowers–so okay, you can be stingy when it comes to feeding them.

I haven’t had great luck with nasturtiums in the past, and maybe it’s because I planted them late, and when the hot, humid weather set in, they turned up their toes and died on me. This year, I started the seeds in March, and so far they haven’t minded a few cold snaps and cloudy days. I’m hoping I get some nice hanging baskets filled with trailing vines and lipstick-red flowers to enjoy.

And hey–if I get tired of looking at my nasturtiums, I can just eat ’em! Nasturtiums, as long as you don’t treat them with any chemicals, are edible and the colorful blooms are snazzy looking in green salads. The blossoms have a peppery bite that I’m not overly fond of, but you can tone down the taste by mixing in some of the buttery, milder lettuces.

I’m growing a variety called Cherries Jubilee this year, but I sure wish I could grow the nasturtiums that Swedish taxonomist Carl Linaeus reportedly saw growing in the late 1880s. Linnaeus (if the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the one who gave us our Latin system of botanical names) claimed to have  seen a nasturtium that flashed and sparkled under certain atmospheric conditions. He wasn’t the only one seeing sparks. There’s a report in an 1887 dictionary of gardening published by George Nicholson, too, that says, “The whole (nasturtium) leaf seemed to twinkle with points of light.”

Awesome, yes?

Sadly, nasturtiums like that aren’t around anymore. That’s why we should grow heirlooms, to keep the old varieties going.

If you’re looking for nasturtiums to grow this year, better get started soon if you’re in the South, or wait until fall returns. You can plant then and expect your nasturtiums to flower the following spring.

Try this site Renees Garden for a great selection of nasturtiums. ‘Empress of India’ is a gorgeous heirloom with bright red flowers.

New Friends and a Mustard Plant

This has been a great week for making new friends. On Sunday, I met a wonderful group from Providence United Methodist Church, who treated me to a delish Southern-style lunch: a buffet at the historic Green Manor Restaurant in Union City, GA.

The ladies had read and discussed my book, Mustard Seeds, and presented me with my very own potted mustard plant to take home! Thank you all again. Here’s a photo–not of my plant, but of one that’s very similar:

And yes, to answer a question that comes up a lot, you really can grow mustard here in the South (and across the U.S.), and it can be both ornamental and edible. My new plant is an annual, but I’ll enjoy it indoors, by a sunny window.

Mustard plants also come in red-purple varieties, which are great colors for a fall garden, and especially beautiful as the weather starts to turn. You can find seeds for sale at local nurseries and garden centers, or buy potted plants like mine.

I’m surprised how often people tell me that they’ve never eaten mustard, especially here in the South, where we eat a lot of garden greens. Then again, maybe mustard is an acquired taste, because it can be pungent. If you’re willing to try it, toss the raw mustard leaves in your fresh salads. It’s also good, if a big stronger-tasting, when cooked and seasoned as you’d do with any other kind of edible greens, like spinach or turnips.

Thank you again, new friends from Providence, for the gift of the plant, the lunch, and the wonderful conversation.

Thanks, too, to the Georgian Garden Club of Villa Rica. I visited last night and read a devotional from Mustard Seeds (which is a collection of essays about faith, not gardening, in case anybody is confused by now). I couldn’t have had a warmer reception, and I enjoyed the delicious mango-passionfruit tea you served–can’t wait to try it again!

June flowers

I knew my gardenia bush was blooming before I even saw it, because I could smell the perfume of the flowers from my porch last week.
I love June–that’s when my gardenias put on their best show.

Fortunately, these beautiful white flowers don’t seem to be bothered by pests or diseases, even in our hot, humid weather.

These purple petunias and orange blossoms are in a big pot on my front porch. The heat hasn’t slowed them down at all.  The picture on the right shows how they’re planted alongside scarlet red geraniums–love the “hot” color combination.

And this little turtle has been wandering around in my garden for several days; as you can see, he’s burrowed into some pine straw here. I wondered why he was hanging around, since we’ve been feeding some kittens in the yard–until we caught him eating the dry cat food one day.  Who knew?

“We give thanks to thee, O God; we give thanks; we call on thy name and recount thy wondrous deeds.” Psalm 75:1.