If you haven't done so already, it's time to pull out the stacks of seed catalogs and get your garden seeds ordered. For me, putting together a seed order is almost as fun as gardening itself. When else, except in the dead of winter, can you imagine a bountiful garden, free from weeds and pests, overflowing with beauty and crop diversity? Of course that "perfect garden" fantasy can cause a little overindulgence when it comes to ordering seeds, so it's good to have a strategy in place. This year, I'm trying something new...using rhyme AND reason.
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."
Might these four ingredients, believed to bring luck and fertility to a new marriage, also bring luck and fertility to a vegetable garden? In hopes of an extra bountiful garden this summer, I’ve decided to apply this long-standing wedding rhyme to my seed order. Here’s a little peak...
The something old piece of my seed order is obvious. These are the pillars of my garden: my favorite, tried-and-true varieties that I rely on to always grow well, yield well, and taste delicious. These are the varieties that I'm happy to grow again and again, year after year. Some of my “olds” include:
‘Lemon Drop’ tomatoes. I first grew this variety in 2004. Now I know it’s easy to love a cherry tomato — most cherry tomato varieties are extremely prolific and super sweet. But ‘Lemon Drop’ has a fruity flavor that sets it apart, at least to my palate. And the pale yellow color is the perfect complement to its distinctive flavor.
‘Bronze Arrowhead’ lettuce. One of my old favorites for head lettuce. Really a beautiful variety and it has proven itself to be dependable to me, even when spring turns to summer and so many other lettuces bolt to seed.
‘Jimmy Nardello's’ pepper. So productive. So easy to grow. So tasty. So simple to roast. And a regional heirloom. No need to say more.
‘Silver Slicer’ cucumber. This will only be my third season growing this creamy white cucumber. And I debated if this variety should be assigned to the ‘Something New’ category because 1) it is actually a "new" cultivar, bred relatively recently by Cornell University; and 2) well, because, a couple of good seasons does not a favorite variety make. But today I’ve decided to be an optimist; here’s hoping that this year will prove that ‘Silver Slicer’ has indeed earned an enduring spot on 'my favorites' list.
Verbena bonariensis. There are so many reasons I never tire of growing Verbena bonariensis. Beside being easy to grow from seed (and a common volunteer), it has no pest or disease issues, thrives with neglect, flowers all summer, attracts pollinators, and it has a strong upright habit with a free-spirited vibe that is perfect for growing in and around those overbearing winter squash vines.
Every year there’s a flurry of new and novel introductions to the seed trade. Varieties promising to be bigger, sweeter, more beautiful, hardier, or sometimes, all of the above. Parading themselves on seed catalog covers and accompanied by seed company fanfare, these varieties sure can trick even the most seasoned gardener into thinking that new is always better. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE trying new varieties. It’s just after so many years of gardening, I tend to rely more on my old favorites and expect less from the new introductions. But I do believe that every respectable seed order should contain at least a few new varieties every year. And so, may garden optimism prevail! Some of the new varieties I’m trying this year include:
‘Sorrento’ rapini. Part of my personal quest to find the perfect spring-planted broccoli raab. I’m convinced it’s out there, I just haven’t found it yet. And while I suspect this variety will prove better as a fall-crop, I will sow it this spring with an open mind and a well-prepped bed, and hope for the best.
Scabiosa stellata. My justification, in four words: Very beautiful, must grow!
‘Happy Rich’ broccoli. I have a dream to breed an annual, open-pollinated sprouting broccoli. Or a stabilized gai lon x broccoli cross. Why? Because what could be better than a broccoli plant that matures quickly and produces tons of small, sweet florets on tender shoots over an extended window of time. But I've not done it yet, and it’s most likely that I will not ever pursue this dream. So for now, I feast off the labor of real plant breeders and add this hybrid to my list.
Is there such a thing as a borrowed variety? There is if you understand the process of gardening to be as much about the culture and community as it is about growing plants. To me, a borrowed variety is one that someone shared with me. Sometimes literally, in that seeds were shared with me, and sometimes figuratively, in that a person introduced me to the variety — in essence, I'm borrowing their garden knowledge. Certainly in the summer, there’s nothing more fun than touring another gardener's garden and discovering new varieties! And I love gardening when I know that I'm growing something because another gardener was kind enough to lend me some of their hard-earned garden wisdom. Here's a few of the varieties I'm "borrowing" this year:
‘Sumter’ cucumber. I saw this in a neighbor’s garden in South Salem, NY a few years back and I’ve been meaning to try it ever since. I visited this garden — truly a feat for the concept of vertical gardening — in late August and the ‘Sumter’ cucumbers stood out. They were fierce: large, healthy, and productive. A little research shows it’s a variety from the early 1970s with resistance to downy mildew, powdery mildew, anthracnose, and angular leaf spot, among others. Maybe 'Sumter' managed to get all the good genes? I plan to find out.
‘Shintokiwa’ cucumber. Is 2017 the year of the cucumber? I can certainly subsist on tomato-cucumber salads all summer, so why not. I learned of this variety from the Garden Manager at the Pfeiffer Center, where we held a seed school program last year. Rave reviews from her were enough for me to want to try it, and I get to add another variety to my list of “borroweds.”
‘Valencia’ tomato. I grew this once, quite a few years ago. It happened to be a time in my life when I grew an obscene number of tomato varieties every year, and I didn't always take the time to forge a lasting connection with each one, even if it was merited. But I was reacquainted with 'Valencia' when I came across it at a local farm stand last year, and I decided it might be smart to borrow some of that 3rd generation farmer wisdom. Adding it to the list for 2017...
‘Castelfranco’ radicchio. My friend Shannon caught the radicchio bug this past fall. She describes this one as, “pointy, spotted, beautiful, mild (tasting), and great for salads.” And when you have a friend with the same name as you, it only makes sense to grow the same vegetable varieties. Plus she ordered enough seed for both of us.
Just as the sirens lured sailors to their doom, the ever elusive, clear-blue flower wields an unseen power over even the most judicious gardener. It seems, at one time or another, even the best succumb. What’s blue in my garden this year:
Bachelor’s Buttons. A good old-fashioned flower variety, perfectly at home growing among herbs and vegetables. Cute. Easy. Blue.
'Dazzling Blue' kale. Does the blue in this variety’s name refer to the blue-green leaves or the purple midribs? I’m not sure, but after growing ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Lacinato’ kale almost exclusively, maybe I need to try something new—and blue.
Borage. Yes, the plants get huge and unruly as the season progresses. But it’s borage, and it just wouldn’t be a garden without it.
So, what seeds are you ordering this year?