Another Seedy Saturday Toronto has come and gone and like last year I managed, with great effort, to make it around to a few booths and pick up some seeds. The event was more packed than ever this year making it nearly impossible to leave my brother/assistant alone at the table for any length of time or push through the crowds lingering around some of the larger seed sellers. The sellers I did manage to get to were often sold out of items on my wanted list. And forget the Seeds of Diversity trading table. I had high hopes but only managed to snag a pack of red orach seeds. Next year I plan to employ the strategy of browsing during setup, BEFORE the crowds arrive. Next year.
Here’s what I managed to bring home with me:
- Red Orach – A trade pack harvested from Jackman Public School’s Learning Garden.
- ‘Early Yellow Crookneck’ Squash – A trade with a You Grow Girl forums member. I thought I needed squash but then got home and realized I have several varieties in my stash. This is why I should have brought a list.
- ‘Dragon’ Carrot – Another trade that I already have. ‘Dragon’ is a beautiful purple carrot. If I had to choose I suppose I favour it over ‘Purple Haze’ although ‘Dragon’ would crumble in a Best Name competition.
- Love Lies Bleeding – I’ve been trying to grow more amaranth over the last few years and ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ is a classic that never gets old.
- ‘Blue Spice’ Basil – Another trade. I don’t think I have grown this variety which is kind of amazing since I’d swear I have covered just about everything in the unusual basil category at least once.
- ‘Purple Calabash’ Tomato – I fell in love with its ugly beauty last year. I am planning to grow less tomatoes this year and have not finalized my list as-of-yet. Who gets cut will be the hardest decision I have to make this year.
- Painted Lady Sweet Pea – I just love the fragrant sweetness of sweet pea flowers but tend to steer clear of them due to their attractiveness to aphids. I decided to try my luck and grow a few varieties this year. I can always pull them out if things get nasty. This variety really does look like the runner beans of the same name. I know it seems redundant to grow them when I can just grow the beans later in the season but I can’t cut those flowers and I am really craving cut sweet peas for my desk.
- Persian Broad-Leaf Cress – I have grown a number of pepper cresses but like that this variety is described as milder than other cresses.
- Tendergreen Mustard Green – I’m on a personal mission to try growing just about every salad green under the sun.
- ‘Queen Anne’s Pocket Melon’ aka ‘Plum Granny’ – I’m planning to grow some melon this year but admittedly this one was an impulse buy and not on the list. ‘Plum Grannies’ are tiny melons known for their intoxicating fruity smell. I can not resist a good back story and the story for these citrus-sized melons is that Victorian women carried them in their pockets to fight street stench. The thought of two of these in a breast pocket has me thinking about another derivative of the colloquial use of ‘melons.”
- Swiss Chard ‘Ruby Red’ & ‘Golden Sunrise’ – I’ve grown the ‘Rainbow’ mix and other coloured varieties but these two are my favourites for their saturated colours that look so beautiful in containers of contrasting colour or as a burst of brightness tucked beside boring veggie varieties.
- ‘Selway’ Lettuce - Brightly coloured greens are another edible trick I employ to brighten dull corners and containers. Consequently I am always on the look out for a good red variety. We’ll see how these fair against ‘Lolla Rosa’ aka ‘Lollo Rosa’ which still reigns as my favourite red.
- ‘Cimmaron’ Romaine Lettuce – An unusual romaine with a deep, reddish purple hue.
- ‘Yugoslavian Red’ Butterhead Lettuce – A really beautiful butterhead variety with shades of green tinged by deep red.
- ‘Black Spanish’ Radish – I’m very curious about the flavour and how to eat this root vegetable.
- ‘Black Jet’ Soybean – I have to admit I bought these for the dark bean colour. I’ve had a lot of success with soybeans in containers on the roof but that dang groundhog just LOVES to eat the plants as they emerge from the soil at the community plot.
Don’t forget to enter the Haiku Contest!
This is the first package of seeds I have purchased for the 2008 growing season. Of course I have acquired other seeds via trades but this was the first I bought. It has a decidedly Canadian sounding name, no? It makes sense given that the plant heralds from Beverlodge Research Center in Alberta. I bought it because one of my longterm goals is to try as many tomato varieties as possible to determine which varieties are the best for container gardeners. My criteria for judging ranges from how they fair and yield in smallish containers to taste and attractiveness.
People often ask me about my own gardens and I often feel I have to explain that despite the fact that I am an artist, they are not really self-expressive or artistic gardens but have become experimental spaces. In some ways they aren’t really mine to do as I please but where I try out different plants, varieties and techniques so I can learn as much as possible within each growing season.
From ages 13-18 I was determinedly set on an educational path towards becoming some sort of scientist. By age 18 I was starting to question that choice as I also had a deep longing to make art and interests in other areas (i.e cultural theory and other humanities subjects). Everything changed one evening when I looked around my grade 13 Chemistry night school classroom and had the sudden, clear realization that while I liked the gadgets and the experimentation I was not at all cut out for a life in science. The reason why I am telling you that bit of history about myself is to explain that forgoing the personal choice for experimentation is not exactly a hardship. I enjoy it equally to self-expression.
In that sense I think I am drawn into gardening through a range of interests. I like the physicality of it, of using my muscles and interacting with soil and plants. I like it as a creative outlet, making beautiful spaces with plants and junk. Which leads to my life-long appreciation for making something out of nothing. Sure we can’t garden with literally nothing, this isn’t magic after all. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the “stuff” we think we need, but in the end we can do a lot with just a handful of seeds and somewhere to put them. It is in that sense that I don’t understand why we focus on depicting gardening as an expensive pursuit. People of all classes garden. Of course there are financial limitations (who owns space and has access to it, and resources that are both financial and in the form of leisure time) but I am just as amazed by the back alley tomato farm as I am by a high-faluting potager. Every garden is a place of wonder with so much to discover and learn from. That aspect of it connects me to my child brain, where my interest in the sciences was really more about uncovering and reveling in a sense of wonder and awe about nature. From that perspective the choices that led me to being so deeply entrenched in this pursuit were the right ones. It taps into several different sides of my brain and has pushed me in areas I didn’t realize needed pushing.
Gardening is a unique activity in that it can be approached from so many different angles. Every gardener has their own personal reasons for being drawn to it and for sticking with it throughout their lives.
So today’s post ends with a question for you. Why are you drawn to gardening? How does it tap into your interests?
The first seed catalogues of 2008, Richters Herbs and West Coast Seeds (in that order), recently arrived in my mailbox, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner even if the outdoor temperatures say otherwise.
I’m going to admit here that while I have the words, “Start to plan this year’s gardens” jotted down for Wed. January 2008 as a reminder in my day planner, I haven’t actually started much of anything. Okay who am I kidding? I haven’t started anything period. Nothing is started. I did a bit in the fall when my hand was forced by the Great Canadian Garlic Collection but nothing has happened since. The fact that I had to write it down as a reminder at all is a sure sign that I am either busy (which I am) or that my personal garden style, which tends more towards whim and fancy doesn’t lend itself to hardcore planning. It’s not that I don’t plan, it’s just that I make “plans” that are always amenable to last minute changes. While I am great at “selling” others on a leftover seedling that I’ve got to get rid of, I am also easily persuaded by the seeds and seedlings of others. Come planting season for every plant I get rid of, there are an equal number of unplanned additions that are welcomed into the fold for one reason or another.
My gardens are small and limited by any number of factors (i.e. light, location) which means that one or two unaccounted plants can throw even the most flexible arrangement out the window. As an example: I don’t like eggplant. In fact eggplant makes my mouth itch, but I have been persuaded to grow another gardener’s leftover eggplant seedling/s on more than one occasion.
But not this year! This year I am going hardcore on the planning. Don’t even try to stop me. I am unstoppable. I am an undeviating, relentless machine for planning. Once I get started. Which I haven’t.
So of course, like every year, as the catalogues arrive on my doorstep I am circling everything with a fervor knowing full well that I will never find the space for my wishlist. I haven’t made any purchases so far but here’s what I have found of interest in the first two catalogues.
Just a note to state that neither of these companies are paying me to write about them. If that ever were to happen I would indicate as such.
From Richters Herbs
- Medinette Basil – It is no secret that I love basil and am always on the lookout for varieties to try. This one is touted as a compact basil with leaves that are larger than your typical bush basil. Sounds good to me.
- Calypso Orange Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Calypso Orange’) – I particularly love calendula in my community garden plot because it is beautiful and long-blooming, self-seeding in the garden, the flowers and leaves are edible, it has great skin-healing properties, and it grows well as a companion alongside other less attractive food plants. The calendula always seems to invite all kinds of spiders and beneficial insects into the garden and I rarely leave a visit to my plot without taking home a handful of fresh blooms to put in a vase or dry. Richters is promoting this variety as particularly medicinally potent variety with dark centres that make it worth trying for the beautifying factor.
- Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) – Tastes like a mild garlic but it not a garlic at all but an amaryllis. I am particularly sold on the pretty flowers that are said to bloom throughout the summer.
- Afrodite Parsley (Petroselinum crispum crispum) – Although parsley has a special place in my heart as the first plant I ever grew, I have to admit that I don’t particularly like to grow it and pretty much haven’t since the early 90s. But I’ve been thinking this is the year to pick it up again and this curly variety described as looking like “lush moss” might have me sold.
From West Coast Seeds
- Orca Beans – Okay let’s face facts here: I have such a backlog of beans waiting in cue to be grown in my gardens that there is no way these are going to make it anytime soon. The catalogue states this type is “fun for kids” but as a gardener who gets excited about pretty beans I have to say these are fun all around. So pretty! And an heirloom to boot. And you know me, give me a good back story and I’m sold.
- Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Brassica oleraceae) – This cold-hardy, spring sprouting biennial sounds fascinating but my guess is that it’s not really suitable for my climate. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it.
- ‘Atomic Red’ Carrot (Daucus carota) – I’m pretty partial to ‘Purple Haze’ but this bright red carrot sure is hard to resist.
- ‘Black Spanish Round’ Radish (Raphanus sativus) – Now that I have mastered the radish it is time to branch out into new terrain.
I want this book! We took a week off last month, staying at the home of an avid tomato gardener whose name I have not sought permission to reveal (and therefore will not). While there she introduced me to the Kokopelli Seed Foundation, a non-profit organization based in France who are working to actively address issues of food security and preserve biodiversity by producing organic open-pollinated seeds as well as educating and promoting these issues globally.
One of their projects is the book, “The Seeds of Kokopelli” by Dominique Guillet is a massive 440 page, hardcover tome introducing Kokopelli’s work and farms, as well as proper pollination, seed production and saving techniques for an assortment of vegetables. The bulk of the book functions as a food plant directory introducing thousands of open-pollinated and heirloom herb and vegetable varieties. My host had the French version of the book at her home
(“Les Semences de Kokopelli“) which proved to be a bit of a tease given that I could only gaze at the photos, picking up a line or two of French here and there. Even still, on quick glance the book introduced me to a few interesting varieties that I’ve got on my list for next year including:
What I saw has absolutely convinced me to order a English edition for myself. $46 (includes shipping to Canada) is an excellent price for such a massive encyclopedia of plants. The price including shipping to the US is a deal at $34-38.
Sure we’re already mid-way into the growing season but it’s not too late to plant seeds and it is certainly not too late to buy seeds with pretty packaging. I found these Asian seeds by Kitazawa Seed Co. at Soko Hardware in an Francisco’s Japantown and could not resist their understated but well-designed packages for my collection.
I plan to try out the watercress seeds immediately as an experiment and will use the daikon seeds in my sprouter. I already have my shiso crop in place for this year and being hardy self-seeders probably won’t need the seeds next year but I thought, What the hey, and bought them anyways.
Browsing through the website I can see that they have a huge selection of Asian veggies and herbs that I have never seen anywhere else. Check out ‘Tankuro’, a black seeded soybean, ‘Japanese Long Scarlet‘ an elongated, red radish, and ‘Kurogoma‘ black sesame seeds! Too late and too much for this year but possibles for next year’s experiments.