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

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!

Earth to Table – a book review

Let me admit it right up front:  I’m a pushover for a beautiful book cover.  If a new book jacket features lush photography or an intriguing design, I usually can’t pass it up.  (That’s the one downside of my Kindle.  You still get to see the covers of the books you buy in e-format, but they’re in washed out shades of gray.  Not very appealing.)

So that explains how I happened across a new book by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann called Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm.

Crump and Schormann, according to the jacket flap, are chefs and members of the slow food movement, which is an international effort to preserve regional and traditional cuisine.  Slow “foodies” also support local farming and livestock practices.  There’s a political element to their movement, in that members want to raise awareness about the dangers of depending on too few genomes and varieties in our food supply, and that’s one reason it interests me.   I’m convinced that we need to save our heirloom food and flower varieties, and not let them disappear because big corporations control what kinds of seeds and plants we can buy.

Slow foodies also encourage organic gardening, as opposed to the use of potentially dangerous pesticides, and remind us that the opposite of “slow food,” which is fast food, isn’t a particularly good nutritional choice for most of us.

But back to the book.  Turns out it’s as beautiful on the inside as the outside.  The book is packed with how-to tips on such things as creating a compost pile, canning and preserving, and planting an herb garden.  Each chapter also contains seasonal recipes, so you can best use whatever is growing in your garden at any given time of year.

I won’t use everything I read about in this book; I can’t see myself gathering and preparing a dish of stinging nettles for my family, for example, and no matter how luscious some wild mushrooms may appear, I’m not going harvest my own for the table.  I’ve read too many warnings about how poisonous ‘shrooms can mimic the kind that are safe to eat.

But there’s plenty more that I can use, like a recipe for a refreshing watermelon drink sweetened with honey and tarted up with lime.  I’m already planning to make a Chez Panisse recipe from the book that makes corn soup with fresh corn, garlic, white wine vinegar, chicken stock, and freshly cracked black pepper.  Sounds delicious served with cayenne pepper sprinkled on top.
There’s a recipe for a beet salad made with heirloom beets, feta, and pumpkin seeds, and one for roasted autumn fruits.

I also enjoyed reading the profiles of heirloom cooks, dairymen and women, and farmers.  Makes me determined to eat more local and seasonal foods, not only to benefit the economy in my area, but also to improve the quality and taste of the meals I serve my family!

“Lord, make me see Thy glory in every place” – Michelangelo

Spring at Epcot

Just got back from Epcot’s 2010 International Flower and Garden Festival in Orlando–wow!  I was invited to speak at their “Great American Gardeners” series, and in between my talks (the weekend of March 19-22), I kept running outside to check out the flowers.

Epcot is always beautifully landscaped, but coming from the gray, cloudy weather we’ve had here in Georgia, where it’s raining and chilly, and going outside under the blue Florida skies to “oooh” and “aaahh” over the pansies and impatiens and Gerbera daises and roses–well, it was just incredible. Really a lift to my spirit after the long winter.  It also made me want to fly home and head straight to the garden center, but it’s still too early here–gotta wait at least until mid-April to be sure we’re past the possibility of a late frost.

Here are some of the pix we made during our trip.  One of them shows me on the speakers’ stage, surrounded by a few of the many heirloom plants the Disney horticulturists grew for me, just for my presentations.  The Disney/Epcot crew was great, by the way–nice, friendly folks with awesomely green thumbs!

I’ll post a few more pictures over the next few days.  And check back, and I’ll share some info a gardener named Greg told me about an heirloom watermelon.  It’s called ‘Scaly Bark,’ and while I’d never heard of it before, I want to try it now (in spite of its strange name).

Okay for now..enjoy the pictures!

This big green guy is positioned near– what else?  The butterfly gardens and exhibit!

You probably recognize Tinkerbell, part of the Disney gardening magic.
Finally–for now–here’s wha I’m calling my Mouscar – that’s “mouse” + “Oscar”.  I couldn’t be more proud if I’d actually won the golden Oscar in Hollywood.  The Epcot gardeners gave him to me at the conclusion of the event.  Isn’t he cute?

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

I’m really looking forward to this year’s International Flower and Garden Festival, which will be held at Epcot in Orlando, FL.

I’ll be there as a speaker for Epcot’s Great American Gardener series.  The park’s horiculturists are already planning to “grow out” many of the beautiful heirloom veggies and flowers I’ll discuss (and I’ll appreciate having the plants already set up around the speaker’s stage. Can you imagine trying to travel with a pot of petunias or zinnias?  If you can’t make it through security with more than an ounce of, say, mouthwash, I don’t think I’d make it onto the plane with a bag of delicious Italian frying peppers or a box of heirloom tomatoes).

Hope you can join me at Epcot on March 19-21.  I’ll speak twice daily, at noon and three pm.  Think spring!

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!