Colorful Plant Catalogs (Column originally ran 1/20/11, Jackson Citizen Patriot)
I love seed catalogs; they evoke such hope! I peek at them quickly as they come into the house then set them in a basket next to my reading table. When I have a block of time, which is easier to find in the winter, I pick up the stack and snuggle into my chair. With my feet up, and a cup of tea, I peruse their colorful pages and dream.
And that is when I, and most of my gardening friends, get into a world of trouble. I have learned over the years that it is easier to abstain than to moderate. Today I am going to try and help you moderate the length of your purchase order form.
It’s true that it’s less costly to grow plants from seeds than to buy them in flats. But most of us don’t have grow-tables in our homes and instead use tables next to windows with southern exposure. So first consider the available space in your home for trays of seedlings…and don’t forget about pets or kids assaulting your growing efforts.
Besides the space in your home, consider the space in your garden. Can you really plant three kinds of cucumbers, four different heirloom tomatoes, and a dozen herbs? Is there enough space for five kinds of blue flowers, and are they honestly going to be as blue as the pictures? You know darn well that if all the seeds germinate you’re going to have a hard time tossing the extras into the compost pile.
With so many options, consider purchasing only new varieties of old favorites. I love cucumbers and can buy one or two plants at local greenhouses. But what I can’t buy locally are the lovely round Lemon Cucumbers, so I’ll order the seeds. Marigolds grow well and many of my favorites are also found at nearby growers, except the airy 30” ‘Cottage Red’. So I’d order these seeds too.
Consider growing a new plant that was just introduced into the market and offers a twist, such as the small cherry tomato ‘Green Envy’. This new introduction is super sweet, never turns red and would be wonderful in salsa or soups.
Rule of thumb: don’t take up precious space growing plants you only need a few of and can buy locally.
Another thing to consider is the level of difficulty germinating seeds. I have the darndest time holding onto seeds to scarify them with sand paper or (yikes!) a knife. And using a heating pad under a flat of ‘Bells of Ireland’ to keep them warm is not the most brilliant of ideas no matter how many layers of protective plastic used.
Rule of thumb: check instructions for propagation method. If it’s only one sentence long, and contains the words ‘easily germinated’, go for it.
And speaking of instructions, double check references for growing conditions; many catalog suppliers really stretch the truth. Not only about what Zone a plant will grow in, but also the size of the flower or its invasive tendencies.
Rule of thumb: get suspicious when plants have extremely close-up pictures of flowers, descriptive words like vigorous grower or naturalizing, or suggest they grow well in a protected site.
Take a little time to discern how you’ll spend your gardening dollar, and you may be able to use your dining room for dining this spring.
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Margaret Rose Realy is an Advanced Master Gardener with over thirty-five years experience in the green industry and leads workshop and retreats. She is the coordinator of the St. Francis Retreat Center Garden Society, a monthly columnist at CatholicMom.com and blogs about gardening and spirituality at Patheos.com. Look for her book, Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, available at Amazon in paperback and eBook, via Patheos Press.