Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Curling up in bed with a good garden catalog

I love the internet, and I do almost all of my seed shopping online. But no matter how great the seed company's website is, there's no substitute for a good garden catalog. Today I received my seeds from Kitazawa Seed Co. They're in cool retro envelopes with excellent descriptions and plant information. Even better, Kitazawa included their catalog along with the seed shipment. The catalog includes an interesting company history (dating back to 1917, this is America's oldest Asian vegetable seed company). Each product in the catalog has attractive drawings, and is accompanied by extremely detailed plant information. Who wouldn't want to read about smartweed, water pepper, rakkyo, and myoga? Best of all, the catalog has almost 20 recipes in the back to inspire both traditional and creative uses for these amazing vegetables. This may be my favorite seed catalog.

But then there's also the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, which offers 37 different types of beans, most depicted in beautiful color photographs, and over 70 tomato varieties. Seed Savers Exchange is quite democratic, listing products alphabetically rather than highlighting their favorites. This forces me to make my own decisions about which seeds to select, although making any choice is almost impossible. The catalog's enthusiasm for these vegetables is so contagious, I find myself wishing I had room for all 37 beans and 70 tomatoes in my garden. While vegetable gardening is extremely practical, producing food for the table, it's also a creative process and the visual appeal of these plants and vegetables cannot be overlooked. The designers of this catalog are clearly captivated by the beauty of their vegetables, and the photos in this catalog are rich and lush. This is vegetable porn at its best.

On its surface, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog is the complete opposite, printed on thin newsprint with no photographs or color. But this catalog appeals to my intellect rather than my heart. The catalog provides excellent descriptions of each product, including pests, diseases and how to save seeds. Reading a catalog written with gardeners like me in mind (i.e. those of us who can't grow lettuce or peas in the summer) is also a great comfort, and the products on offer seem edited to guaranty success in the Houston garden. What's not to love about a garden catalog that offers 12 types of okra, and cowpeas with such alluring names as "Big Red Ripper" and "Polecat Pea". This catalog inspires nostalgia for a time when families passed their seeds on from generation to generation as their most valued possession. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the "good old days" just a bit (honestly, thank god I didn't grow up in the South 100 years ago!), but blame it on the catalog.

I keep all my garden catalogs, and go back to them time and time again. They are both educational and inspiring. I'm already making my wish list for next year -- I just need two or three more acres so I can try all these vegetable varieties. Maybe my neighbors will let me remove their azaleas, monkey grass and oleander to grow vegetables in their yard? Not likely. Still, there's nothing better at the end of the day than curling up in bed with a good seed catalog, dreaming about seeds and vegetables to come.

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