Last night I fell asleep with seed catalogues piled around the bed, myriad choices for summer blossoms and mouth-watering vegetables.
I’m always drawn back to Renee’s Garden Seeds, partly through nostalgia. I planted my first cutting and vegetable garden in New Jersey with her seeds when her company was Shepherd’s. At that time she was very “cutting edge” offering heirloom and hard to find seeds and was one of the first in America to introduce international vegetables, flowers and herbs to home gardeners . In the mid 1990’s Shepherd's Seeds was bought out by White Flower Farm and prices went up while descriptions went down, becoming flowery and useless instead of informative.
Shepherd's seeds is now out of business and Renee has re-emerged. I think her seeds are still expensive, but customer service is excellent, the germination rate is very high and (it may be my imagination) the seeds I order from them seem to grow faster than other companies. The seed packets are great, wonderful hand drawn watercolors of the plants on the front and all the information you need about the variety on the back.
The choice isn’t fantastic, but the older I get the less choice I crave. I’d rather have an expert devote the time to narrow the field to the best in taste and quality and offer a selection of say 5 excellent extraordinary carrot varieties I dither over than 25 that overwhelm me. Of course you need an arbiter of taste you trust, which in this case I do.
There are several heirloom combination packets that are extremely tempting and allow you to experiment with different varieties without wasting vast quantities of seeds -- who needs 500 pepper plants if you want to sample 5 different types? As a stroke of genius when you order a mixed packet, the seeds are color coded with food grade dye so you can distinguish the different varieties.
This year I'm planting for clients as well as myself and wanted greater choice and more quantity than I see in her catalog. After skimming through numerous others, I settled on my two other favorite companies. Johnny's Seeds for great vegetable selection, good prices and customer service and excellent germination rates. And the old British standby Thompson and Morgan for fabulous flower selections.
I'm always tempted by plants I know I can’t grow. Old fashioned sweet peas are one of my favorite flowers and I had them twining over our fence in England. Here I can grow the perennial sweet pea seen above, but it lacks the fragrance of the annuals which on the East Coast of America are usually miserable paltry things that wither before they flower.
I persevere each year and thanks to last summer's cold wet weather hit the sweet-pea jackpot and fell in love again. The catalog descriptions “...graceful beauty .. ruffled blossoms, soft texture and glowing colors ... one of the most irresistible flowers... scent is an exquisite perfume of orange blossoms and honey, surely one of the most seductive of all flower fragrances...” has induced me to try ONE more time. I’ve added “Queen of Hearts”, “Jewels of Albion” and “Cupani’s Original” to my long list of seeds to order. Exquisitely fragrant and heat resistant .. we’ll see! I'm planning to sow them under lights as soon as they arrive to give them a really early start.