The best gardening catalogs

Our top picks for seeds best for Central Oregon gardens

Liz Douville / For The Bulletin /

Published Feb 26, 2013 at 04:00AM

“Gardening is not some game by which one proves his superiority over others, nor is it a marketplace for the display of elegant things that others cannot afford. It is, on the contrary, a growing work of creation, endless in its changing elements. It is not a monument or an achievement, but a sort of traveling, a kind of pilgrimage you might say, often a bit grubby or sweaty, though true pilgrims do not mind that. A garden is not a picture, but a language, which is of course the major art of life.”

— Henry Mitchell, in “The Essential Earthman”

Seed catalogs, greenhouse equipment catalogs and general garden supply and landscape catalogs arrive several times a week in my house. Temptations abound on every page, especially in the nonessential, but fun-to-have, catalogs. However, as Henry Mitchell points out, a garden is not a “marketplace for the display of elegant things.”

I love browsing through all the catalogs. Shades of guilt creep in when I place some of them directly in the recycle bin. Over the years I have honed the go-to list down to a few favorites. I really should request that I be taken off the mailing list of those I know I have no interest in.

I weigh the pros and cons of supporting the post office against the save-the-tree philosophy, and the trees always win.

I know it sounds contradictory to make statements about saving trees and then proceed to say I absolutely have to have a paper copy as opposed to using an electronic catalog. My logic, convoluted as it may be, is that if I pare down the list, it will be OK to receive my favorites in the mail year after year.

I was saddened when Nichols Garden Nursery (Nichols GardenNursery.com) in Albany went exclusively to an electronic catalog. In this case it hasn’t kept me from ordering from Nichols, as it is a high quality supplier offering unusual herbs and vegetable varieties. Nichols has increased its market outreach by establishing seed racks in many of our local nurseries and garden centers.

Territorial Seed Co. (www.Territo rialSeed.com), located in Cottage Grove notes on its catalog cover thatit is offering 240 new items this year. Territorial offers most of the tomato varieties that have been developed at Oregon State University and are identified as such in the variety description. The OSU varieties generally have a shorter maturity time, making them more successful in our area.

The gardeners who love to experiment will be interested to read about the grafted tomato, pepper and eggplant varieties. Grafted vegetables are widespread in Asia and Europe. The plants are considered to be problem solvers. Hardy woodstock contributes to the vigor and disease resistance of the plant while the top part is chosen for fruit flavor and quality. I would appreciate gardeners sharing with me any experience they may have had with the grafted plants.

Abundant Life Seeds (www.abundantlifeseeds.com) is also located in Cottage Grove and specializes in open pollinated and heirloom seeds. Open pollinated seeds and heirloom seeds mean you can save the seeds at harvest to plant next year. Abundant Life’s research staff members grow and evaluate thousands of varieties in their trial gardens. They also work with universities, seed banks and breeders to develop new varieties.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Johnnyseeds.com), located in Maine, is a 100 percent employee-owned company. The catalog offers detailed cultural information that reads like a textbook at the beginning of each variety section. Johnny’s also offers growing guides on its online grower’s library. Many of the vegetables are cool-season, short-term varieties that will do well here. The catalog offers 15 pages of lettuce varieties, pre-mixed selections and an array of micro greens either in a mild or a spicy mix. What a time Peter Rabbit must have doing some taste testing.

Park Seed (parkseed.com), located in Greenwood, S.C., is the supplier I use for seed germinating equipment. The company was one of the first to offer equipment for the home gardener beyond peat pots. Peat pots don’t work well here, so it was a real innovation when Park Seed’s “bio-sponge” system became available. I did notice this year that more companies were offering similar systems.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com), located in Mansfield, Mo., definitely offers the creme de la creme of catalog photography. The 9- by 11-inch glossy catalog looks more like a coffee-table book than a seed catalog. The catalog offers 1,450 varieties of rare and unique heirloom vegetables, flowers and herbs from 70 different countries. The catalog also offers recipes from Baker Creek’s vegan cookbook.

Renee’s Garden (www .reneesgarden.com), located in Felton, Calif., offers an online catalog filled with organic seeds that have been chosen for excellence in flavor, color, ease of growing and performance for the home gardener. Renee Shepherd has been considered a pioneer in introducing international varieties of flowers, vegetables and herbs. The company is also widely known for its extensive collection of sweet pea flower varieties. All standard seed packets are priced at $2.79 or $2.99, with organic seeds priced at $3.79.

The company has established a fundraising program for nonprofit organizations, donating 25 percent of every seed order to registered nonprofits. The Central Oregon OSU Master Gardeners are registered in the program. To participate, register the coupon code FR663A on your order form.

The most important factor (that we can control) in having a successful garden is to choose seeds appropriate to our growing season. Limited as it may be, 65 to 80 days, plus 14 days to compensate for the temperature difference between night and day temperatures, we can find varieties in most vegetable categories to grace our table.

If you are a gardener new to the area or someone who wants to refresh your gardening skills, take advantage of the gardening classes being offered during the next few months. Classes are offered by the OSU Extension Service, the OSU Central Oregon Master Gardeners Association and Central Oregon Community College Continuing Education program. Watch for ads and press releases in area newspapers.

For more information, contact: http://extension.oregon state.edu/deschutes, www.go comga.com(click on Upcoming Classes & Events) or www.cocc.edu/continuingEd.

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