by AMY STEWART
THIS RAINY WEATHER IS GOOD FOR THE GARDEN in more ways than one: The plants get a good long drink of water, and the gardener gets a chance to sit inside and page through seed catalogs, placing orders for spring. Here are a few of my favorite catalogs:
The Cook's Garden (800-457-9703, www.cooksgarden.com): This is a small, personable, and beautifully illustrated catalog of vegetable and flower seeds. The company is owned by Shepherd Ogden, author of Straight-Ahead Organic, and Ellen Ogden, who recently completed a cookbook called From the Cook's Garden based on the recipes that have appeared in the catalog over the years. There's something here for everyone, but the Ogdens are best known for their lettuces and cooking greens. In their catalog you'll find six varieties of mustard, eight varieties of radicchio, and three varieties of corn salad, also called mâche. This is my favorite wintertime green -- it forms tiny rosettes that are sweet and buttery and it thrives in cold, wet weather. Try planting it at the base of a pea trellis and letting it go to seed in spring. It'll come up of its own accord in the fall, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Wood Prairie Farm (800-829-9765, www.woodprairie.com) offers a terrific supply of organic seed potatoes, and provides a helpful chart that identifies the potatoes and explains that a "waxy moist" potato like Onaway is best for stews because it holds its shape, while a "creamy mid-dry" potato like Rose Gold makes the best creamy potato soup. Who knew there was so much to learn about potatoes? I planted my first crop last year and was amazed at the flavor a fresh-dug potato has to offer. Wood Prairie also sells bread mix, dried fruits and an intriguing assortment of vegetables by mail. If you don't have space to grow your own vegetables, you can join the Potato of the Month Club or the wintertime Savory Vegetable of the Month Club, which includes parsnips, squash, carrots, and, of course, potatoes.
Brent and Becky's Bulbs (877-661-2852, www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com). Some of you may know Pat Stone's lighthearted gardening magazine Green Prints; this bulb company is owned by his family. They offer a wide selection of interesting and unusual bulbs, including a couple dozen varieties of allium, and pages of daffodils which are, for you show growers, organized according to the American Daffodil Society's 13 divisions. The only thing that saves me from ordering everything in this catalog is the fact that there are few color photographs. The illustrations are helpful, but it takes a photograph to sway me when bulbs are involved.
Territorial Seed Company (541-942-9547, www.territorialseed.com) is an outstanding catalog for Northern California gardeners. The company is based in Oregon and specializes in flowers and vegetables that do well in our climate. They were the first to offer "Legend," a hybrid tomato that is resistant to late blight, a common disease around here. This year I'm excited about "Fairytale," a mahogany brown, deeply lobed pumpkin that looks like something out of an antique woodcut, and "Infrared," the reddest sunflower I've seen. They also sell seed potatoes, cover crop seed, tools, fertilizer, and a good selection of young plants. This year, all 66 tomato varieties are available as plants.
Bountiful Gardens (707-459-6410, www.bountifulgardens.org) is owned by John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. Last spring I visited his farm and research center in Willits, where he develops his ideas about the role of intensive organic farming to reduce world hunger. The catalog reflects his interest in compost crops, grains, and high-calorie food sources; the result is an odd mix of old and obscure varieties like the Mangel beet, which was originally grown as a fodder crop but later came into favor as a sweet and nutritious beet variety. He and legendary organic gardener Alan Chadwick influenced each other; that influence shows through in the catalog, where he offers "Rodan," a variety of lettuce that Chadwick treasured. You can buy weedy salad greens like purslane, miners lettuce, and lamb's quarters, and unusual vegetables like podding radish, a variety grown not for its root but for its edible pods, and strawberry spinach, an ancient plant with edible leaves and small, strawberry-like fruits. Also, don't miss his imaginative seed mixes, which include inexpensive assortments of beets, radishes, tomatoes, lettuce, and other popular crops. And if you get a chance to visit his Common Ground store in Palo Alto, I hear they sell unpackaged seed in bulk. "If you want one seed, we'll sell you one seed," Jeavons told me.
Finally, a bit of seed catalog gossip: Many of you have probably seen Renee's Garden Seeds in shops around town. The owner, Renee Shepherd, was one of the first to dye the seeds in her mixes with food coloring so gardeners can tell one variety from another; John Jeavons now does the same for the mixes in his Bountiful Gardens catalog. She also has a knack for finding interesting new varieties and covering her seed packets with beautiful illustrations and a surprising amount of useful information. Renee founded a company called Shepherd's Seeds in 1985, but in the late `90s the company got a little bigger, moved away from its home base in Felton, Calif., and was eventually bought by White Flower Farms. It lost a little of its home-grown feel -- along with some of its more interesting offerings -- as a result of all these mergers and acquisitions. By this time Renee was no longer involved with Shepherd's so she founded Renee's Garden Seeds as a way of returning to her roots. Now Renee has bought Shepherd's back and will combine the two seed lines into one. Visit www.reneesgarden.com for more information, or look for the seeds in nurseries and garden shops this spring.
E-mail garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.
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