Friday, February 4, 2011

Looking Ahead

      New York City is more like Buffalo these days; grey, snowy and dreary.  The sounds outside are the scraping of shovels and periodic plows, but indoors there is the daily, reassuring thwack of seed catalogs dropped outside the door.  As they pile up on the bedside table or alongside the most comfortable reading chair, nothing seems too exotic or difficult to grow.

Despite this irrational optimism, I have given up getting an early start with indoor seed-sowing and now limit my orders to those seeds that can be sown outside later in the year.  I was happy to eliminate the world of seed starting kits, indoor lights, the succession of drooping seedlings struggling on windows sills, the inevitable (for me) death by “damping off.”   Now free to be away for a day or two without fretting about daily misting, by the time weather permits outdoor sowing both enthusiasm and strength are back at the requisite level.

Not that I have any right to discourage you.  If you are so disposed to start seeds indoors, The Gardener’s Supply Company can provide you with all you need to experiment: indoor lights, biodegradable cowpots, organic seed starting mix, germinating mix when you are ready to transplant from the tiny cowpots to larger containers, heat mats and pop-up protection nets.

And then of course, there are the seeds themselves to consider.  Johnny’s Seeds is one of the best all-purpose catalogs, with everything you could conceivably want, but not necessarily need.   Fedco is of a different order, a charmer printed on newsprint, no color, no photographs, only drawings so out of fashion they seem new.  Fedco sells small packages of seeds, while other nurseries offer more in a packet than you will ever be able to use.

This is the moment to confess that long ago I chose flowers over vegetables, and so it with a sense of relief that I turn to Thompson and Morgan. Totally devoid of geopolitical accountability and good design, it nonetheless offers everything you could ever hope to grow.  It has a huge inventory, with separate sections on annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs, trees and shrubs and container plants.

Staying with the decision to direct-sow out of doors, I’ve ordered nasturtiums and sunflowers, the largest assortment possible (from Johhny’s); Cleome ‘Color Fountain mix’ in pink, rose, lilac, purple and white (from Thompson and Morgan); Cosmos ‘Sensation mix,’ the old-fashioned cosmos with white, pink and carmine flowers on 36 to 48 inch stems (Thompson and Morgan); ‘Heavenly Blue,’ the traditional Morning Glory (Johnny’s); Hyacinth bean, a vigorous climber with beautiful dark green leaves and purple flowers (Fedco); and Zinnia elegans ‘Benary Giant’ (Fedco), the standard variety grown for summer bouquets, available in a blazing range of yellow, pink, scarlet salmon and white, with two inch blooms on three foot stems.

Seeds can be sown directly in the earth after all danger of frost has passed and the soil warms up a bit.  Seeds with a hard coating, morning glories in particular, will have to be nicked with a sharp knife and soaked overnight in a glass of water if they are to germinate.  In general, just read the directions and seeds will perform well for you. 

The arrival of seed catalogs sows optimism in even the most winter-hardened heart.  Perhaps this is the year to try Nigella or Verbena or California Poppies.  Or perhaps not. 

1 comment:

  1. Ellen in ProvidenceFebruary 9, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    I must give a warning about Cleome; when I was gardening on Nantucket years ago I grew some because I was told they weren't appealing to deer. That was the case, however after a few years of fighting them back I was wishing they did appeal to deer. They spread everywhere! I had a miserable time pulling them out of beds yards away from my original planting.