Winter harvest: Seed catalogues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: I’m enjoying my first harvest of the 2014 plant and seed catalogues.

2014 catalogues, first harvest

The first harvest of the 2014 gardening catalogues.

Most gardeners enjoy four full seasons of gardening, whether or not they realize it. In the northern hemisphere, it is the high season for plant and seed catalogues. It is a season of fertility and richness (in the mind, if not the wallet); the season of imagining the glory of our gardens in the months to come. Everything now is promising: We haven’t suffered heartbreaking drought, no surprise springtime hailstorms, no plagues of locusts. Damping off is only a vague possibility tucked away in the corners of our minds. Turning the pages of the catalogues that arrive every other day, we are reminded of that plant we’ve been meaning to grow for years now. And look! Here it is, waiting for you, at only $2.99 per pack! It would be criminally negligent not to order the seeds and get cracking.

It is understandable that enthusiasm will inevitably overtake you, and you will order more seeds than you can possibly manage to cultivate (which is fine; seeds will keep, of course). But it is worth investigating the box of seeds tucked away in the corner of the garage, or perhaps the plastic bag’s worth tucked under the wilting lettuce in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, prior to placing this year’s order.

You’ve craved hollyhocks for five years now, true, and the price in the catalogue cannot be beaten, and what’s more if you don’t order them immediately, you’ll probably forget for a few days and when you do get back to it they’ll have sold out of the variety you want. We have all seen this movie before. The color of the flowers in the catalogue’s glossy pages is unlike anything else, it would be the perfect accent in the border, and the entry promises the mature plants will be the perfect height and spread to fill in that difficult gap between the shrubs. But it’s possible you’ll find the reason you’re facing a fifth season sans-Alceas is because you have four years’ worth of unopened seed packets squirreled away. There is always a reason why certain events in the garden don’t happen the way you intend for them to, but don’t let surrender your cash too easily just now. You’ll need it when the bulb catalogues arrive in a few months.

hollyhock seeds

Gardening task for high temperatures: Catalogue surfing

It’s July, and everyone in the United States is coping with a heat wave. Although doing so detracts from the legitimacy of my sniveling, I must be honest and confess that temperatures here in my central NC garden are actually lower for this time of year than they have been in recent years. It seems absurd to say that 95 degrees (35C) is a reasonable summer temperature, but it’s all relative. That does not make it any easier to do the weeding.

I am proposing that gardeners across the US uniformly retreat from their landscapes, in the name of health and safety, and embrace that pastime that we usually celebrate in the darkest days of winter: catalogue gardening. Now is the ideal time to sit in the air-conditioned house, sip a cold beverage and plan the glories we’ll enjoy next spring. My new Van Engelen bulb catalogue has been insisting I make my plans before everyone else snaps up the Erythroniums I intend to add, or the Chionodoxas I have long wanted to try, or the Camassias with which I became enchanted after bittster showed off his photos of them in combination with Iris ‘Elsa Sass.’ It does not matter at all that Camassias are said to like moisture, and that I am unlikely to see a moist spring and summer like this one for another ten years.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs has wonderful selections. Among the catalogs I intend to request are Old House Gardens, High Country Gardens, Sunshine Farm & Garden, and Easy to Grow Bulbs. If you have other favorites, do share.