Published December 2004

December is a magic month for gardeners and flower bed enthusiasts, and not just because Christmas is coming soon.  Over the next weeks, “wish books” will be arriving, normally called seed catalogs, and we can spend snowy and bitter cold hours sitting near a warm fire turning pages, looking at new offerings, planning just what and where we’re going to plant when the weather warms and catkins appear on willow trees.

Unfortunately, many readers aren’t on mailing lists, and either receive a single catalog or nothing at all, as one woman complained when she asked me “Where can I get a catalog?”  There are literally hundreds of companies out there, some of general interest and some specialty types who would be overjoyed to send you their product pages and hopefully draw an order.  Here are just a few of the common ones.

The W. Atlee Burpee & Co. is one of the best known and offers quality products.  Ask for their catalog by calling 1-800-333-5808.  The Park Seed Company is well known too, and can be reached at 1-800-213-0076.  Johnny’s Selected Seeds (1-800-879-2258) is a personal favorite, as is Harris Seed (1-800-514-4441) and the J.W. Jung Seed Company (1-800-297-3132).  There are lesser known companies too, like the Tomato Growers Supply Company at 1-888-478-7333 and The New England Seed Company at 1-800-825-5477.  Make a few calls, get some catalogs, and start thumbing.

Some of the plants you’ll find in one or another of the above catalogs will be new and unusual, worth trying on an experimental basis.  They’re winners of the All-America Selections, types chosen because a cluster of experts decided they were the years best in their particular category. 

One winner is the Winter Squash “Bonbon”, an improved butternut type that’s deep green with silver stripes.  The vines are shorter, so Bonbon can be grown in smaller gardens and they’re vigorous, adapting well to various soil types.  But the best reason to grow this winter squash is because the thick, dark orange flesh is delicious, sweet and stringless.  And easy to grow from seed, once the soil warms to 70 degrees.

Another unusual vegetable to be looked for in garden catalogs is the tomato, “Sugary.”  This one is a sweet snack, though healthy and low calory, that’s produced on vines in clusters like grapes.  It’s a cherry sized tomato, perfect for salads with vigorous vines that flower, set and ripen fruit continuously through the season.  Grow it from seed or look for it at select garden centers in the spring.

Then there’s a neat little eggplant called “Fairy Tale” that can be grown in small spaces or even in containers on your patio.  They’re dwarf enough to grow well in a 10 to 12 inch pot and are of highest quality when only 4 to 5 inches long.  The fruit will be produced in clusters of 3 to 5 eggplants and waves of them will be produced all summer.  Sound good?

The All-American Selection folk didn’t overlook flowers either, and those who love cut flowers for arrangements should like a zinnia called “Magellan Coral”.   The blooms are stunning and draw the eye from a surprising distance,standing about 15 inches tall and fitting either small spaces of lengthy landscape borders.  You’ll be happy to hear that this zinnia doesn’t need deadheading to stay beautiful, it covers spent blooms with fresh foliage instead.  Best of all, it’s easy to grow from seed and is undemanding, needing only sun, fertile soil, and water.

And finally comes Arizona Sun, an improved wild flower native to the American Great Plains.  This new variety is small, and produces red and yellow blooms all summer with even the spent blooms attractive as tufts of seeds.  Look for it too, in catalogs.

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