Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing something. Gardening begins in January with a dream of what could be and seed catalogs help keep that dream alive through the dark heart of winter.
Just because the yard looks quiet doesn't mean that nothing is happening. While we’re warm indoors, dreaming through the seed catalogs, a renewal is going on in the garden. The soil absorbs the rainfall while microorganisms convert mulch and dead leaves into usable nutrients. Worms tunnel along, aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome seeds and plants.
Mama Gopher is expecting, and soon her babies will be born beneath the lavender rhododendron planted 20 years ago to mark the final resting place of a beloved dog. When I first found Gopher’s nursery the rhody was a sad specimen. It’s roots were teething toys for baby gophers. I gave the plant an extra thick layer of compost and then encircled it with carrots, onions and potatoes. Baby gophers prefer veggies to rhody roots, and so the rhododendron now perches safe above the nursery, sheltering the little family.
I’ve always loved the seed catalogs that left me feeling as if I were communicating with people that I knew. Someone once said that to garden is to let optimism get the better of judgment, but I’ll take optimism over judgment every time. What have we got to lose? A few dollars? Big deal.
In return we get dreams in January and anticipation in February, which will lead us directly down the primrose path to March. For most gardeners, March is Mecca. If we can just get there all will be well and Nirvana can be found just down the road. But the dear little catalogs put out by small family farms are going the way of small local shops and over the last few years my favorite companies have disappeared.
Ronninger’s Seed Potatoes was bought up by something called Irish Eyes and Garden City Seeds. The Cook’s Garden, a small Vermont family farm that carried the best lettuce seeds in the world, has been purchased by Park Seed Company. Gone are Shep Ogden and his wife, Ellen, who were passionate organic growers and people I might have visited with over the back fence. The catalog begins with a letter supposedly signed by Ellen, but it’s probably written by a young copywriter.
I suppose I shouldn’t feel betrayed, but I do. I don’t trust the big companies. They’re likely to sell me genetically modified plants guaranteed to produce sterile seed. When we can’t raise our own seed, we’ll be entirely dependent upon them, which is, of course, their intention.
This year I’m ordering mostly from Territorial Seeds in Oregon and Bountiful Gardens just down the road in Willits, both of which produce organic, open-pollinated seeds and work to make us less dependent upon them or any other seed company. Sounds good to me.