Thursday, January 15, 2009

All tomorrow's gardens

If you're like me, the cold temperatures of Winter* have got you thinking of the beginning of planting season in the Spring: breaking the ground, spreading the compost, double-digging the beds, starting the seeds in flats, transplanting them to the garden when they're big enough...

OK, maybe you're not thinking of these things. But if you've ever ordered anything garden-related through the mail, your mailbox is probably filling up right now with glossy gardening catalogs filled with bright, colorful photos promising huge, beautiful and/or delicious flowers and vegetables from your long as you buy your seeds from whichever catalog you're holding.

Two catalogs in my experience break with this pattern. Neither is slickly produced, or is full of colorful photos - last time I looked, both were printed in black text on white paper (in one case, newsprint), and neither has fancy illustrations. These are my two favorite catalogs. (Surprisingly, each has a web presence.)

Bountiful Gardens is produced by the group Ecology Action. Their promise is "Heirloom - Untreated - Open Pollinated varieties for sustainable agriculture."
Bountiful Gardens sells untreated open-pollinated seed of heirloom quality for vegetables, herbs, flowers, grains, green manures, compost and carbon crops. Offering Biointensive and Grow BiointensiveTM sustainable organic seed.

Specialties: Rare and unusual varieties. Medicinal herbs. Super-nutrition varieties.

Biointensive books/videos for growing soil sustainably using mini-farming techniques such as double-digging, intensive spacing,and companion planting.

Fine tools, basic organic gardening supplies, and non-toxic insect controls.

You may be interested to know that Bountiful Gardens is a non-profit organization and a project of Ecology Action which does garden research and publishes many books, information sheets, and research papers, some in other languages. Ecology Action operates a research mini-farm in Willits, CA and promotes the GROW BIOINTENSIVE(TM) method of food production which teaches people in 130 countries around the world to grow food and build soil with less work, water, and energy by natural methods. Find out more at
I have grown many beautiful flowers and delicious vegetables from seeds bought from Bountiful Gardens. One of my favorites is the ping-pong ball sized cherry tomato Chadwick's Cherry, which grows profusely and reseeds readily. I purchased and planted it once, perhaps ten years ago, and it came back every year from seed, until the fateful Spring three years ago that I decided to also plant Brandywine tomatoes - and none of my fallen Chadwick's Cherry came back the next year. Lesson learned. I'll order and start more Chadwick's Cherry this year.

The other catalog is even stranger. It's from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman. His Statement of Purpose is a bit long, but it makes for interesting reading. Although I haven't seen this catalog in years, I doubt it's changed much from the last time I saw it: tiny serif typeface on plain white paper, folded over to make a booklet, with no illustrations but for botanical line drawings. And the plants are arranged by taxonomic classification: genus, species, and variety. So if you're looking for seeds for a Butterfly Bush, you need to know that you're really looking for a Buddleja; a quick scan through the B's reveals that J.L. Hudson is offering this:

LOGANIACEAE. 'BUTTERFLY BUSH', 'SUMMER LILAC'. Showy deciduous or evergreen shrubs of great value for the garden. Their handsome flowers are profusely produced in round heads or spike-like panicles, and are attractive to butterflies, who congregate to feed on the nectar. Handsome large leaves. Best in full sun and well-drained soil. Many will survive in the North if the base is protected. Easy from seed sown on the surface or lightly covered. Keep warm to germinate in 2 - 12 weeks. Give ventilation to prevent damping off. Try using GA-3.
—Buddleja Davidii (=variabilis). (a!,h) BUDD-6. Packet: $2.50
'ORANGEYE BUTTERFLY BUSH'. Lilac flowers with orange throats, in dense 4 - 10" spikes in late summer. Shrub to 6 - 15 feet, with large, narrow, dark green leaves that are white underneath. China. If cut to the ground by a freeze, it will sprout from the base and reach 7 feet by fall. "A very handsome species with showy and fragrant flowers appearing in great profusion in late summer."—L.H. Bailey. Germinates in 2 - 12 weeks.
Scanning through the J.L. Hudson catalog gives you a wealth of information on plants and gardening, and provides you with a quick education in the Latin naming of various plant species. You will find many fascinating plants, some you might never have thought to grow before.

The time of "The Februaries" is almost upon us, that time of the year when, in defiance of all logic and reason, experienced gardeners will take a stab at starting seeds about four weeks too early - and have their initial optimism dashed to bits as damping-off kills all of their promising young seedlings. Best to avoid the possibility entirely by arranging to have these catalogs arrive sometime in early February, and then receive any seeds I order in proper time for March planting!

To request a copy of the Bountiful Gardens catalog without placing an order, click here.
Follow these instructions to obtain a print catalog from J.L. Hudson, Seedsman.

*How cold? I nearly got frostbite pumping gas today!

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