Now is the time to dream and plan the 2013 garden from a basketful of catalogs, while sitting by the fire. Here are five at the top of my list.
Seed Savers Exchange 2013 catalog of heirloom & open-pollinated seeds, books and Gifts.
The Seed Savers Exchange started back in 1975 in Decorah, Iowa. A young couple, Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy began a collection of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, with a morning glory and a pink tomato Diane's great-grandparents brought from Bavaria to Iowa in the 1870's. It has grown into an 890-acre farm with a visitor's center, that preserves thousands of varieties of flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs. This catalog is illustrated in lavish color, and is packed with everything from purple carrots to watermelons with white or orange flesh.
None of these seeds are hybrids, and some date back to the time of Thomas Jefferson. For those who don't want to attempt to grow from seed, plant starts are available. Most of what they sell are unique varieties not available in local nurseries. Since the plants are not hybrids, seed can be saved from your harvest and replanted next season. If you find a tomato you really love, you can perpetuate the variety and don't need to reorder.
The company encourages you to preserve your own seeds. Executive Director John Torgrimson said "by planting [our seeds], you have become a steward of our food heritage, a link in a chain that goes back thousands of years. Use this seed to grow food, but please save the seeds, share them with others, and replant them again in your garden to allow the seed to adapt to your local growing conditions."
A personal favorite is Jimmy Nardello's pepper. They were given to SSE by Jimmy Nardello, whose mother brought the seeds to the U.S. when she immigrated with her husband, Guiseppe from the Basilicata region of Italy in 1887. It is a long, thin frying pepper that is super sweet and flavorful. The peppers are glossy and red and up to 10" long.
Stokes specializes in hybrids of the latest and best varieties. I like to try the hybrids as well as the open-pollinated varieties. The only catch with hybrids is that they don't come true from saved seed and you are at the mercy of the hybridizer to keep producing the seeds.
A Canadian company with offices in Buffalo, most of their varieties are trialed in a cold climate. I prefer seeds from this source, as they are usually designed to produce a full crop in short-season areas, with less than ideal growingl conditions. Plants that are trialed and grown in California or the Pacific Northwest have much different growing conditions than Northeast Ohio, and they often don't perform well here.
Stokes is a great catalog for another reason. It is a veritable how-to manual for growing everything they sell. Information is given for greenhouse and commercial production, and also for those planting a home garden. I ordered asparagus seeds from them 30 years ago and have had a wonderful asparagus patch ever since. Stokes also sells a wide range of flowers and ornamentals.
THE COOK'S GARDEN-seeds and plants for gourmet gardeners
Just as their title describes, this catalog is for those who want spectacular lettuces, garlic, melons and more. They're offering a purple strawberry that looks interesting, and I know I will order several of their lettuce collections. Lettuce is one of their specialties, they have a full range of varieties that do well in spring, through the high heat of summer. Offering both seeds and plants, Cook's Garden is a source of both flavorful and visually stunning produce. The catalog also contains flower seeds and plant starts are available.
JOHNNY'S SELECTED SEEDS
This catalog runs a whopping 209 pages. Like Stokes, it is packed with growing information. Johnny's is an employee-owned company headquartered in Maine. They too trial their seeds in a cold climate and I have had nothing but success with their seeds. One plant that you shouldn't go without is their Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato. It is the smallest, sweetest cherry tomato you will ever eat. They run in clusters of 5/8" to 3/4" fruit, and children will devour them like candy. Customer service from this company is always outstanding.
THOMPSON AND MORGAN
This is a British company, with offices in the US, that has been in business since 1855. Here is where I buy most of my flower and other ornamental seeds. This is not a catalog for the beginning gardener. Growing information is sparse, they presume you know what you're doing. Some of their perenniel seeds, for instance, will take years of growing before blooming, a fact some might not realize until after the seeds arrive and the packet instructions are read.
For those who like the thrill of growing their own flowers and are looking for the unusual, this catalog comes highly recommended. They have wonderful sweet peas, which have a heavenly scent and are an excellent cut flower. The British are passionate about sweet peas, and there are numerous varieties in this catalog not obtainable anywhere else. (The only catch is that sweet peas like cool growing conditions and Ohio summers are often too intense). You will be amazed at the flowers you can can grow from seed, and T& M seek out both the unusual and the stunning.