The first seed catalogues of 2008, Richters Herbs and West Coast Seeds (in that order), recently arrived in my mailbox, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner even if the outdoor temperatures say otherwise.
I’m going to admit here that while I have the words, “Start to plan this year’s gardens” jotted down for Wed. January 2008 as a reminder in my day planner, I haven’t actually started much of anything. Okay who am I kidding? I haven’t started anything period. Nothing is started. I did a bit in the fall when my hand was forced by the Great Canadian Garlic Collection but nothing has happened since. The fact that I had to write it down as a reminder at all is a sure sign that I am either busy (which I am) or that my personal garden style, which tends more towards whim and fancy doesn’t lend itself to hardcore planning. It’s not that I don’t plan, it’s just that I make “plans” that are always amenable to last minute changes. While I am great at “selling” others on a leftover seedling that I’ve got to get rid of, I am also easily persuaded by the seeds and seedlings of others. Come planting season for every plant I get rid of, there are an equal number of unplanned additions that are welcomed into the fold for one reason or another.
My gardens are small and limited by any number of factors (i.e. light, location) which means that one or two unaccounted plants can throw even the most flexible arrangement out the window. As an example: I don’t like eggplant. In fact eggplant makes my mouth itch, but I have been persuaded to grow another gardener’s leftover eggplant seedling/s on more than one occasion.
But not this year! This year I am going hardcore on the planning. Don’t even try to stop me. I am unstoppable. I am an undeviating, relentless machine for planning. Once I get started. Which I haven’t.
So of course, like every year, as the catalogues arrive on my doorstep I am circling everything with a fervor knowing full well that I will never find the space for my wishlist. I haven’t made any purchases so far but here’s what I have found of interest in the first two catalogues.
Just a note to state that neither of these companies are paying me to write about them. If that ever were to happen I would indicate as such.
From Richters Herbs
- Medinette Basil – It is no secret that I love basil and am always on the lookout for varieties to try. This one is touted as a compact basil with leaves that are larger than your typical bush basil. Sounds good to me.
- Calypso Orange Calendula (Calendula officinalis ‘Calypso Orange’) – I particularly love calendula in my community garden plot because it is beautiful and long-blooming, self-seeding in the garden, the flowers and leaves are edible, it has great skin-healing properties, and it grows well as a companion alongside other less attractive food plants. The calendula always seems to invite all kinds of spiders and beneficial insects into the garden and I rarely leave a visit to my plot without taking home a handful of fresh blooms to put in a vase or dry. Richters is promoting this variety as particularly medicinally potent variety with dark centres that make it worth trying for the beautifying factor.
- Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) – Tastes like a mild garlic but it not a garlic at all but an amaryllis. I am particularly sold on the pretty flowers that are said to bloom throughout the summer.
- Afrodite Parsley (Petroselinum crispum crispum) – Although parsley has a special place in my heart as the first plant I ever grew, I have to admit that I don’t particularly like to grow it and pretty much haven’t since the early 90s. But I’ve been thinking this is the year to pick it up again and this curly variety described as looking like “lush moss” might have me sold.
From West Coast Seeds
- Orca Beans – Okay let’s face facts here: I have such a backlog of beans waiting in cue to be grown in my gardens that there is no way these are going to make it anytime soon. The catalogue states this type is “fun for kids” but as a gardener who gets excited about pretty beans I have to say these are fun all around. So pretty! And an heirloom to boot. And you know me, give me a good back story and I’m sold.
- Purple Sprouting Broccoli (Brassica oleraceae) – This cold-hardy, spring sprouting biennial sounds fascinating but my guess is that it’s not really suitable for my climate. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried it.
- ‘Atomic Red’ Carrot (Daucus carota) – I’m pretty partial to ‘Purple Haze’ but this bright red carrot sure is hard to resist.
- ‘Black Spanish Round’ Radish (Raphanus sativus) – Now that I have mastered the radish it is time to branch out into new terrain.
I know that time is getting tight now as the Holiday Season kicks into gear but I wanted to be sure and mention some gifts to make if you’re coming up dry on ideas for the gardener friend in your life. A lot of these ideas use materials harvested from your own garden but I have found that in a pinch the herbs can be purchased at affordable prices from the bulk bins of local health food stores.
I watched “Everything’s Cool” yesterday afternoon, hot on the heels of the UN conference on climate change held in Bali last week where my country was globally humiliated ONCE AGAIN by our Prime Minister’s refusal to support a new climate change agreement — an action supported by the rest of the planet, excluding our neighbours to the south. As 2007 comes to a close it is hard to believe that any nation would continue to deny that global warming needs to be addressed seriously let alone deny that it exists at all. It is this massive example of it-ain’t-real-until-I-say-it-is psychology that is at the heart of what the film makers attempt to expose and challenge in this documentary.
The movie begins in 2004 as the filmmakers cross America in a giant biodiesel-powered public service announcement delivery system talking to Americans about their views on climate change and conducting talking-heads-style interviews with well-known global warming “messengers” like Ross Gelbspan, one of the first investigative journalists to take the topic on, and Bill McKibben, acclaimed environmental writer and the author of several books including “The End of Nature” (in addition to my personal favourite, “The Age of Missing Information“).
The film goes on to address the controversy surrounding global warming and trace the roots of this controversy laying blame in the politicization of what is essentially a scientific matter, positioning global warming as a postulated theory rather than fact. The filmmakers explain that it is the uncertainty created by this never-ending “debate” that feeds indifference and inaction.
I am not a journalist with a need to present an unbiased opinion so I can say here that I believe global warming exists. I believe it is not a theory but a reality. My beliefs are based on the information I have read and on my own experiences as a human who has lived in this area long enough to see the changes that have occurred and as a gardener who experiences the climate and the seasons with all of my senses. Unfortunately as a believer this film felt a bit too simplistic and out-of-date, however I will say that I don’t think I am the intended audience. I don’t think it was made to convince the already convinced or speak to the choir but was instead meant to tip fence sitters over from the “wondering” side to the “believing” side. Because once we’re all on the same side of the fence we can actually start to get some shit done.
I’ve been collecting patches, specifically vintage Girl Guide merit badges with a nature or craft theme for years and figured it was about time I actually, you know, did something with them short of keeping them in a box. It’s a nice box and all but I really only look into it approximately one to three times a year. I made myself a dandelion hat that I wear regularly during the really cold months and since I love mine so much I figured you might too. It’s certainly better than keeping them in that sadness box*. I’ve added five hats to the store, each bears a vintage Guide patch. Perhaps you have a farmer, dandelion lover, arborist, happy camper, or birder in your life? I only have one each so when they are gone that’s all she wrote.
*The direct link to the sadness bowl routine to which I am sort-of referring is here but just warning that it’s kinda work inappropriate.
The Curious Gardener’s Almanac: Centuries of Practical Garden Wisdom
By Nial Edworthy
When I first sat down to review The Curious Gardener’s Almanac by Nial Edworthy I began in the most logical place, the introduction. I was immediately smitten. I found the author’s slightly dramatic, yet also dry and mildly self-effacing sense of humour to be immediately charming and easily relatable. Even more delightful was Mr. Edworthy suggestion to install the book in the bathroom where the reader can dip into it from time-to-time rather than reading in long sittings. By the time I got to his use of the phrase “sweet bugger-all” I was captivated.
Now, I realize these are all rather shallow ways to review a book — there is more to my assessment, I promise! Mr. Edworthy goes on to deliver a very hopeful and optimistic view of gardening as an act that has the potential to create positive change for the environment and in turn change the gardener. He writes about his early days as a gardener, discovering that there is no end to how much there is to learn about gardening and also discovering that the learning comes primarily from the doing, from getting down into the dirt and getting your hands dirty. By the end of the introduction I was more than ready to leap into the actual book itself, eagerly anticipating another 100 plus pages of charming, wittily told stories.
Unfortunately the rest of the book lacks the wit, sharp bite, and personal anecdotes found in the introduction. Which is not to say that the rest of the book is not good or interesting, rather it just isn’t what I had anticipated. For the purposes of description I would label the book a fairly traditional almanac in that it is comprised of quotes about gardening by all the famous gardeners, interesting historical facts, bits of wisdom, and chunks of gardening knowledge. The design is very much in keeping with the style of other well-known almanacs including vintage woodcuts and lithographs of plants, tools, and other gardening imagery. I particularly enjoyed the herbs section picking up a few new tips including using hops (Humulus lupulus) in herb pillows as a natural tranquilizer to help with insomnia. While I am highly allergic and do not have the space to indulge in an entire lawn of chamomile, the idea is not one I had thought or heard of. This book is loaded with great facts, tid bits, and inspiring ideas.
Unfortunately, what the book lacks is what sold me in the introduction, Nial Edworthy’s clever and very relatable voice. Instead the book takes on the slightly formal tone more closely associated with traditional almanacs. While I find these sorts of books interesting to read, I would prefer to read an entire book that takes off where the introduction ended. I want to hear more about Nial Edworthy the gardener and his exploits as a former city dweller who moved to the country and found himself drawn into the crazy world of gardening.