When I begin receiving seed catalogs in the mail after the first of the year, I wish my garden and my bank account were bigger.
There are new varieties that catch my eye as well as old-fashioned or heirloom varieties that haven’t been available for years. In this year’s catalogs I see ‘Red Spider’ zinnias that look like fireworks. I’m sure I could squeeze a few ‘Cottage Red’ marigolds along the sidewalk. Those ‘Nema-Gone’ marigolds are supposed to help reduce nematodes; I could plant them next to the tomatoes. I must order some seeds of the hardy Kumaon palm and Yunnan dwarf palm. And that’s just a start.
Now there are probably more plant catalogs than seed catalogs. Some plants do not set seed or come true from seed, and some people don’t want to wait to grow things from seed. I like to grow from seed, and I encourage everyone to try it. It’s less expensive and it’s wonderful to see a full-grown plant, especially a tree that is much bigger than you are, and know you planted the seed.
If you are unsure of your abilities, start with something easy like zinnias, marigolds, or cucumbers. As you build up confidence you can graduate to fine-seeded begonias and species that have erratic germination rates.
Most companies provide instructions in their catalogs, on the seed packet or on their website. Be sure to read them carefully. Some seeds do not need to be sown deeply and some require darkness to germinate. Also be sure to read whether the plant can be grown successfully in Georgia. Is it something that will melt in our humidity, scorch in our heat, or freeze in our cold? Following the instructions and getting as much information beforehand is a key to success.
One thing that has changed in the seed and nursery business is the internet. In addition to, or in lieu of, a printed catalog, companies are putting their products online. This can cut the mailing and printing costs of the company and increase the speed with which you can send your order. While speed and efficiency are important, selecting varieties off the computer screen isn’t as enjoyable to me as spending an evening poring over catalogs and making selections.
While I don’t have the storage space to keep all my old catalogs, I do keep some favorites for reference. My oldest dates to 1917. In these old catalogs, I garner information as well as historical perspective. I can see how needs, tastes, emphasis, and even spelling have changed. For example, soybeans were once soja beans, and catalogs of the early 40s emphasized Victory Gardens and appealed to the patriot in every gardener to fight the Nazis with a hoe.
Another old, familiar place I like to look for seeds, bulbs and plants is the Market Bulletin. You can find many goodies there, you know they perform well in Georgia, and you help a fellow Georgia gardener make a few extra dollars.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.