Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Variety Can Be More Than Spice in Gardener's Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Variety Can Be More Than Spice in Gardener's Life

Article excerpt

Often a gardener will buy an unusual tomato or pepper variety at a farmer's market, grow it to a happy harvest and then be unable to find it again.

Another recurring problem: Growing a named variety of vegetable that has the identical characteristics of another variety of a different name. This often happens in tomato growing, where so many cultivars have been introduced over the years. If Tomato A looks and tastes like Tomato B, it might not matter which one you are growing, except the gardener likes to know what he or she is raising. Confusion is aggravating.

Even more annoying, though, is buying a named variety that simply turns out to be an entirely different beast. In most gardens, space is at a premium. If a gardener were to devote a certain area to, say, bush beans, spend many hours raising them, and then see them grow into rampant pole beans, smothering the onions, lettuces and other neighbors, that gardener might be irritable company for a while.

There can be several reasons for these snags.

In the first example, when a variety disappears for a year or two, the cause often is traced to a supplier's crop failure: No crop means no seeds to harvest and sell again. Or perhaps the variety was misnamed to begin with - you know the characteristics of the plant you grew and loved, but don't know its true name. Finding it again proves difficult.

The second problem of indistinguishable varieties is an inevitable result of an embarrassment of riches. The most popular vegetables, including tomatoes and peppers, come in such a range of choices - there are more than 300 tomato varieties alone - that differences among them begin to blur. And with so many varieties, the risk of mislabeling them becomes much greater.

The case of the completely misnamed variety is especially common in the herb world, where a seed often is sold as a certain variety that it cannot be. The preferred perennial French tarragon, for example, is propagated by cuttings, not by seed. The seed-grown plant, despite its name, is undoubtedly an annual cousin of true French tarragon, such as the rangy and largely flavorless Russian tarragon.

Much of the chaos is a result of poor or outright incorrect botanical classification, something that horticulturists and botanists are const antly working to improve. The rest may be traced to seed companies' inadequate handling and labeling practices that lead to misidentification. Even the most diligent company can make mistakes occasionally. Unfortunately, the home gardener has no opportunity to prejudge the grower or seed producer, and learns who is reliable only through trial and error.

So what are gardeners to do as they begin buying seeds and plants in the next couple of months?

First, if the problems described have not yet befallen you, then you are buying seeds and plants from reliable sources and you should just stick with them. …

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