Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Winter Planning Comes Summer Bounty Catalogs Are Far More Than Sales Tools; They Prime Gardeners for Work in the Soil

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Winter Planning Comes Summer Bounty Catalogs Are Far More Than Sales Tools; They Prime Gardeners for Work in the Soil

Article excerpt

Like birds returning to roost, seed and garden catalogs drop into our mailboxes at a rapid clip this time of year. It's an annual rite of winter as gardeners and the seed industry gear up for spring.

Bright and colorful for the most part, filled with the promise of summer abundance, these catalogs offer a wide variety of seeds, plants, and tools not readily available at retail centers.

But catalogs are infinitely more than just sales tools. They are mines of information, and the gardener who goes prospecting through their pages will come up with a wealth of ideas and advice for use in planning and planting a garden.

Nationwide, there are close to 500 seed and garden mail-order companies all wanting your business. But before you can order from them, you have to get the catalogs. Garden magazines in libraries and bookstores contain advertisements for seed-catalog companies.

Once the catalogs have arrived, go to the kitchen table, desk, or wherever else you feel comfortable, and flip through them. Start by reading the company president's letter, then the table of contents and other announcements to learn what's new. Every catalog has its own personality and it generally shows up here.

Also note the catalog's symbols, the little signs indicating whether plants are sun or shade lovers, drought tolerant, frost tolerant, suited to container plantings, and those varieties deemed easy for newcomers to grow.

If growing instructions are important to you, make a note of how the catalog treats these entries. Maine-based Johnny's Selected Seeds (207-437-4301) was one of the first companies to include extensive growing instructions in its catalog, and many others have since followed suit. Johnny's "culture" comments, printed on a pale green background, stand out clearly.

Most seed companies list new or outstanding varieties in the front of the catalog. This lends excitement to the browsing, but a touch of hype can accompany these entries. But if an entry says, "possibly the best cucumber you have ever tasted," you can expect a good-tasting variety. …

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