It’s that most wonderful time of year. No, not the part where people rush to the mall to buy things no one needs and we all eat too much and resolve to work it off in January.
It’s when the seed catalogs begin to arrive. In the past few years, the race to improve the product photography has really been on. Baker Creek is still the champion here, IMO — they don’t even bother to put up photos of everything anymore since you are too busy drooling over the ones they have. But they have competition. Seed companies aren’t sending out the intern with a cheap camera anymore, they are bringing produce into the studio. Instead of just dreaming over descriptions, we now have photos of perfect produce to fantasize about as well. Alas, many of us will never see such exactingly perfect fruits. They are the supermodels of the vegetable world: not nearly as attractive in person because any slight imperfection has been ruthlessly photoshopped out. And in many cases, the person doing the photo processing moved the saturation slider too far to the left for reality. I refer you to the cover of this year’s Seed Saver’s Exchange and the impossibly neon pink beans on the cover.
Seed catalogs are a gardener’s delight on a cold dreary day. I circle hundreds of seeds that I don’t possibly have room to grow nor the budget to buy using a color-coded highlighter system that means something when I do it but can never quite the meaning of recall later. It’s an indulgence like pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream and a glass of eggnog after Thanksgiving dinner. I — and many other gardeners — suspend disbelief and reality about the inevitable expanding garden (or waistline) such an indulgence has as its price.
Enjoy your catalogs. But when all is said and done, put them down. Decide what you need to grow and which varieties work in your area. Check your existing seed stash. Make a list of what you need, and *then* crack open those catalogs for a final cut. Are you actually going to eat those things? Compare it to your seed budget: will you save at least as much as you spend on seeds and shipping?
An extra flower or vegetable is bound to end up in your order anyway, and it should. Stretch your gardening boundaries with an experiment or add a fun touch of color with some blooms that are in your garden only because they give you pleasure. I can’t do a “By the Numbers” post on the value of mental health and happiness, but I don’t doubt pretty things nurtured from seed contribute positively to it.
Time to go check the mailbox. A couple of my favorites haven’t shown up yet!
(By Nicole Castle)