There is a fresh sprinkling of snow on the frozen ground that just fell the past few hours. But for an avid gardener like me, it is an exciting time of year. It’s time to order the seeds. The catalogs arrived in the beginning of the year, just after the holiday greeting cards. The number of catalogs have been reduced to a sprinkle now that online catalogs are available. I enjoy both of them. The online ones change the sale coupons every week, while the mail-order catalogs have only one. For me it means double the fun. After hours of perusing, I set out to actually plan by garden.
First, I need to inventory my existing seeds. I pore through them all, throw out the empty seed packets. After looking through them, it is time to make some decisions. I finally settle on which seeds I will be using this year.
Now, back to the catalogs. I first look through them to find the new offerings. Truly whoever gets the task of naming seeds has a very fun job. This year, one that catches my attention – ‘Strawberry Blonde,’ the name of a new marigold. Most of us are familiar with marigolds that are yellow, orange or red. Try to imagine a blossom with a mix of all three colors. I can’t wait to see this one.
Every year, I also look out for a few heirloom varieties to add to the basket. The scientist in me does so to ensure the preservation of genetic diversity. But for the other part of me, it is the quirkiness of them that attracts.
It is of course important not to be totally taken by the eye candy of the attractive pictures. Yet, some offerings do surprise. I was curious about the Celosia ‘Dracula’ but its strong, dark purplish colored leaves and beautiful burgundy blossoms were truly spectacular. Some years ago the petunia with the intriguing name’ Pretty as Picaso’ did not disappoint – with its purple-maroon trumpet-shaped blossoms with a lacy, lime green edging.
Another aspect I might look for is which seeds have been designated All American Selection Winners. These are new varieties that have been tested in trial grounds across the country that have been designated winners. Judges are horticulturists who volunteer their time and compare the growth of the new varieties to existing ones. Trials are conducted in 80 trial sites throughout the country. One trial site is just in our backyard so to speak at the Illinois Central Garden. It is a way for us home gardeners to find the new varieties that are most likely to succeed in our gardens.
After carefully perusing the descriptions, selections are made based on the plan for this year – at the Demonstration garden at ICC (which I am involved with as a Master Gardener) and for my home garden. The advantage of starting from seed is that one can try out varieties not available in the nurseries. One year, I tried several varieties of Rudbeckia – and was happy to see the range of blossoms available in these daisy-like flowers.
Once the decisions are made, it takes just a few more minutes to fill out the order forms – either online or on the mail-order form. The advantage of the mail-order form is that it settles me. It is as if the lines define the task and restrict me. Regardless, the selections are made and the orders are completed. Then its days or weeks of anticipation until the package arrives.
As you remove the seed packets from the cardboard box and handle them, the wonder hits you. It is truly the magic of nature that these tiny seeds – mere specks- given the right conditions of soil, sun and water will, in a few weeks transform into what? This small round seed will grow into the thick, red stems and large dark green leaves of Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights.’ These slivers – black and straw-colored, sprinkled on to a pot will unfurl feathery leaves and those strawberry blonde blossoms.
So I encourage you to try some seeds this year. Burpees, Johnny Selected Seeds and Gurney’s are all sites I have frequented. Whether you follow my example and check out the catalogs, or pick out a few packets from your local store, don’t hesitate to try starting some seeds this year. It is an inexpensive experiment – and may turn out to be a very satisfying one.
With the growing season around the corner, this is the first of a series of blogs that I am starting for this year on Gardening. Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome. Happy Gardening!