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

Seed catalogs in the mailbox

January 8th, 2009

The catalogs, that is. In January, my mailbox is always stuffed with gardening offers, and today brought a fantastic catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I’m still shaking my head at how expensive it must have been to produce and mail, because it’s oversized, with glossy, magazine-type pages. It’s packed with so many intriguing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, it made me want to run straight to the garden and start growing something–anything!

Here are a few things I’m putting on my list to order:

  • Mississippi Silver Hull peas, a runner type that produces very well here in the South. The beans are large and tan and delicious.
  • D’Alger melons. I’ve never eaten this kind of melon, but it sounds great. The catalog says it’s a “colorful, ancient, French cantaloupe (possibly from Africa)…(T)he flesh is highly perfumed and very smooth and creamy.” The photo shows a dark green-black rind with silvery splashes.
  • Sugar Snap peas. These are for my hubby, who loves to eat them sauteed or raw in salads. I like that they’re produced on bushy vines that don’t need staking.

There are lots more things I want to grow, but Thai Long purple eggplants won’t make my list. We grew them last year and they were way too skinny and bland.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you might remember that I’m the official “Master Blogger” for the 2009 Southeastern Flower Show, which opens in Atlanta on Jan. 28 through Feb. 1. This year, the show has several cooking demonstrations planned with wonderful chefs you’ll talk about “Cooking from the Garden.” For more information, please visit my blog at Flower Show Blog

When you visit the show, be sure to bring your questions for these knowledgeable cooks. I’ll also be there, signing copies of my book, Gardening with Heirloom Seeds, and my new book, Mustard Seeds: Thoughts on the Nature of God and Faith, on Sat., Jan. 31, at noon. Hope to see you there!