Getting Started: Knowing what to grow and when to start seeds takes a bit of practice, which is why I always start with a bench. Finding the perfect garden bench is the key to happiness. It is where all the major decisions are made throughout the season: how to combine tall peas with short spinach, where to dig in the onions, how to manage the long season kale and chard, and when to restart lettuce seedlings. I can fit everything on paper, yet only time sitting on the bench helps me figure out the details.
One good solid bench, well placed in the vegetable garden is the only way to get in touch with the space designated as your garden. The perfect garden bench does not guarantee that you will sit for a moment, yet it will provide you an opportunity to remember to let go of the frenzy of spring, to feel the the pea stones between your toes, inhale the fragrant blooms of summer, perhaps sit quietly to fully absorb the atmosphere that surrounds the colors as they blend. Finding that perfect bench bench, solves the first step to perfect garden design.
Selecting seeds: Seed catalogs are designed to charm the gardener with color photographs, yet instead of being seduced by the pictures, learn to read the copy. You will recognize words that are overused by the copy writers to lure you in: days to maturity, hardiness and disease resistance, yield. Instead, I look for characteristics that meet my criteria for flavor, fragrance and color. I trust my tried and true varieties, yet also recognize the importance to try something new.
I enjoyed this interview on Away to Garden with David Mattern, the vegetable gardener at Chanticleer gardens, and agree with his approach about combining art and gardening, to embrace vegetables with personality and to step out of the comfort zone by planting on the diagonal instead of straight rows.
This year, heirloom and open pollinated seeds have piqued my interest, in part to save seeds for the following year, yet also to experience the old fashioned varieties that brought so much pleasure to gardeners before me. Living in an historic house has led me to curious about stories behind the seeds, to match my garden to the era of my house (1905) and then hopefully pass the seeds along at the end of the season. It’s taking the old into the future.
Why it’s important: The politics around seeds and seed catalogs are maddening which is why I choose to only buy seeds from catalogs that I trust, who support the safe seed pledge to not support GMO products, and who adhere to organic practices when ever possible. I’ve rediscovered seed libraries, too, making seeds available to anyone who wants to grow a garden.
Setting an example is one of the best ways we can effect positive change, and sharing our love for good homegrown food cultivates a healthy choice. Growing seeds that are raised with respect may seem like a small step, yet it is how we can learn to become responsible consumers, and reclaim our health as a nation.
Here is a short list of my preferred seed catalogs, that might offer you a new approach your new garden year.