Happily while I was traveling, the mailbox was filling with plant and seed catalogs, just in time for the first snow so I didn’t have to feel guilty about spending hours drooling over the photographs and beginning my lists. Since I have an entirely new potager to plant, my lists will be extensive, although not as large as they were when I owned the herb farm. I won’t need nearly the quantity of some seeds as before, and I won’t have unlimited space. At the herb farm, I had 22 display gardens; now I have only the potager, its front flower borders, the deck garden, the addition garden, the front sidewalk and lamp post gardens, the new shade garden and the reclaimed (now fairy) garden.
The plant-starting, seed-growing space issue is probably what will be most difficult for me to adjust my thinking and timing. Before, I could seed and transplant to my heart’s content and by the time the big greenhouse was full to bursting, the weather had moderated enough for me to move hundreds of flats into the coldframe, allowing me to refill the greenhouse. When the weather improved even more, all the coldframe plants that could take cooler temps were moved into the sales areas, so hundreds more flats could all be processed forward. I know that I won’t be growing the quantity of flats and plants, but my space is really, really limited. And, I’m not even sure at what temperatures I can hold the new little hobby greenhouse, only 10′ x 12′, when the outdoors is frigid. I have a whole new learning curve to master.
Keep in mind that the very first seed order arrived several weeks ago. That was from Geo, a wholesale seed company that I adore, and contained all the varieties for which I’ll need large quantities: pansies, violas, a few perennials, zinnias galore, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, and marigolds. (See “First Seed Order” post.) The pansy, viola, perennials, and snapdragon seeds are stratifying in the freezer. Normally, I would have planted them in November, but I didn’t want to plant them and then leave on our trip to Europe, so I waited. I planned to plant them right after Thanksgiving, however I’ve decided to delay a few weeks. Since I won’t have the space and will need to wait until the temperatures are decent to move flats into the tiny greenhouse and then outside to harden off, I’m waiting, and hoping I won’t be sorry.
Now I’m thinking veggies and merrily making my lists. I always go through each catalog and mark everything that I really need with a star. I mark everything that I want with an arrow, and things that I need to research to see if it is something I should try with a dot. Next, I spend some time on the laptop checking out all the “dots” and if it’s something desirable I change it to an arrow or star, and if it’s not it gets eliminated. with an “x.” Sometimes a catalog will show a luscious flower, but when I research it I discover that it’s actually only 1/2″ wide (although it looks huge in the photograph!) or that it is a rampant spreader, or it’s not hardy in my zone, or it’s poisonous to dogs, or has some other bad habit. Catalogs are sales tools, after all, and it is their job to make you want to order on impulse. Beware.
Once I’ve been through each catalog, I have an overall picture of what’s new and what’s available, and study them more carefully. At this point I make a list for each catalog, noting name, page #, amount of seeds per packet and price. Sometimes, especially if it is a new (to me) plant or variety I include a note on height, color, days to maturity, etc.
Then I compare lists. I begin with the shortest list. I want to place as few orders as possible to avoid multiple shipping costs. Have you noticed how those costs have skyrocketed in the past few years? If I only want 5.00 worth of seeds, I hate paying $9.65 for shipping. So, if I can locate the items on the shortest list in other catalogs, I can eliminate it.
Next, I compare costs, keeping in mind the size of the seed packet. I won’t need 1,000 Genovese basil plants anymore, or even 150, or even 50, so I’m now looking for smaller quantities and therefore lower prices. That’s why Pinetree Garden Seeds has become my “go-to first” catalog. I’ve ordered from them for years, usually for small quantities of specialty items. Even at my herb farm, I didn’t need 300 motherwort plants, so Pinetree’s packet of 50 seeds for $1.50 was perfect. They have an amazing and ever-growing variety of seeds, including lots of heirlooms, lots of European and Asian varieties, also some plants, bulbs, onion sets, potato starts, gardening and soapmaking supplies, books, canning equipment, some kitchen gadgets, spices, teas, and other goodies. If you haven’t received their catalog, call 207-926-3400 to get one or go on-line at http://www.superseeds.com.
Renee Shepherd’s Seeds are another favorite, because she carries varieties that are hard to find elsewhere, and has some neat combo packs that save money. I know Renee through Garden Writers’ Association, and she is a hard-working, extremely knowledgeable, and dedicated woman. Nichols, a family-owned herb nursery in Oregon is great for hard-to-find herb seeds and plants, and a nice selection of veggie seeds, too. They no longer mail a catalog, but you can find it on-line.
I also like Baker Creek and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, although both of these are a little pricier than Pinetree. Baker Creek is famous for its beautiful glossy photos of heirloom varieties and Johnny’s is great for northern gardeners with short growing seasons, and for market gardeners who need quantities. When I did farmers’ markets, I had massive orders and Johnny’s never disappointed me. John Scheeper’s (a major source for my fall bulbs) and Burpee’s have nice listings, but I seldom end up ordering from either, because they are a bit more expensive and I can usually find Burpee seeds in town and save the shipping costs. Select Seeds sometimes gets an order because they often have flowers in a color I can’t find elsewhere. Gurney’s might get a seed order, but I never order plants from them since they failed to send decent material twice.
I prefer to purchase plants from local, independent (especially family-owned) greenhouses if at all possible. However, sometimes I can’t find what I want, so for ordering small quantities of plants, I prefer Bluestone Perennials for their excellent perennials and flowering shrubs. They have 11 different primroses, and that is exceptional. I’ll need those for my primrose path, when I figure out where to put one. They also have luscious hellebores and clematis, and I like the fact that they committed to ecology-based, plant-able pots so the plants do not suffer any transplant shock. And all their packaging materials are recyclable.
Once the lists have been compared and duplicates crossed off, I add up each one. The total is always staggering, and at this point, I really have to use some self-discipline and eliminate some of the “want” items, especially the pricey ones and whittle down the “needs” a bit, too. In the past forty years, the first question was always, “Will my customers buy that?” Now, my first question is “Do you really have space for that?” I’m just growing for me, and it’s a new concept!