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Plants for all seasons

This is the time of year when gardeners love to settle down on rainy days with catalogs for planning and daydreaming of gardens to be. Even non-gardeners can appreciate these publications for their beautiful photographs and illustrations.

I’m especially attracted to offbeat publications like the J.L. Hudson, Seedsman (http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net) catalog.

When I was editing the “Garden Questions & Answers” column for the big paper in the valley and a reader wrote asking for a source of something like a snowy river wattle tree or large rattlesnake grass, that’s where I’d look. It’s a wonderfully offbeat and educational publication that I can’t pick up without reading several pages beyond what I’m looking for and marveling at the diversity of plant life.



And I couldn’t help but wonder about the devoted group of people who strive to keep these rarities in commerce. Once I stumbled on a feature story about the company and wanted to learn more, so I wrote and asked if I might visit their offices on the San Francisco peninsula and write about them.

The answer I got was in keeping with the dedicated tenor of the catalog: “We appreciate that you enjoy our catalog, but we don’t do interviews, because the stories would center on the people here and not the plants whose seeds we offer. We trusted the author of the article you read to focus solely on the seeds, and she disappointed us.”




For others like me, who enjoy unusual garden offerings, the past few weeks have brought a wealth of mail-order opportunities.

For example, the winner of a Mail Order Gardening Association award for best new products in 2004 went to Gardens Alive (http://www.gardensalive.com) for encapsulated earthworm cocoons.

I’ve been under the impression that if you create good soil, earthworms sort of “show up,” but if you want to increase their number, 50 cocoons ($12.95) is enough to give 50 square feet of garden area a jump start on worm production.

Many years ago, my dear mentor Bonnie Coleman introduced a struggling young garden writer to the Nichols Garden Nursery catalog (http://www.nichols gardennursery.com) as the ultimate source of herbs, ranging from agrimony to Zefa fino Finnocio (Florence fennel). In business for more than 50 years, this family operation, run by my friend Rosemary Nichols McGee, continues to delight its customers with its wealth of material.

And look at the rapidly expanding world of potatoes. As explained in the Ronnigers Potato Farm (http://www.ronnigers.com) catalog, there was a time when we had a choice of white, red or baking potatoes. Now Ronnigers has more than 75 varieties of new, heirloom, fingerling and European strains.

Among the newcomers are “Pink Wink” and “Kerrs Pink” from Ireland (Kerrs being that country’s most popular potato); “Cowhorn,” an heirloom from New Hampshire; and “Maris Piper,” a British heirloom white potato available for the first time in America.

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog (http://www.rareseeds.com) is a slick full-color production now in its seventh year of publication, but brand new to me. Touting heirloom varieties of good things to eat, this year’s offerings include more than 100 varieties of melons from Europe, America and the Orient. An example is a cantaloupe named “Ananas D’Amerique A Chair Verte” (Green-fleshed pineapple), which was grown by Thomas Jefferson in 1794.

“The fruit have netted skin,” the description goes, “and light green flesh that is firm, sweet and highly perfumed.” There are 265 new selections this year, all nonhybrid and nonpatented seeds.

For those interested in unusual tree crops, there’s Okio’s Tree Crops (Web site under construction: http://www.okiostreecrops. com), a catalog I hadn’t seen before, which lists some intriguing specimens, including precocious hazelnut, black elderberry, orange-fruited chokecherry and American plum. Before letting your dreams run away with you, though, be sure to check what climate these trees enjoy.

In a similar vein, the familiar Raintree Nursery catalog (http://www.raintreenursery.com) touts “the best old and new fruit trees, berries and unusual edibles from around the world.” Some 60 new offerings are presented in the 86-page publication. I’m no great fan of blackberries, since brambles with lackluster berry production cover a good portion of our ranch, but I can almost taste the richly tart berries of the Loch Ness thornless variety, described as “Monsterously large and Scottish.”

Not to be overlooked in this venue is the One Green World catalog (http://www.onegreenworld.com), which celebrates 25 years of growing unique fruits and ornamentals in Molalla, Ore. On its cover are columnar apples, which bear fruit on a single upright stem. Are you intrigued by names like aronia, Chilean wintergreen, Japanese raisin tree or the Tasmania vine? Have fun.

John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog has been around for more than 90 years but isn’t letting any dust settle on its selection of vegetable, herb and flower seeds.

Check it out at http://www.kitchen gardenseeds.com. I’m particularly fond of the friendly and inviting layout of this publication, with intriguing line drawings and incredible recipes scattered here and there.

If you’re the kind of landscape gardener who delights in visitors pointing to a plant in your garden and asking, “What is that?” you’ll take fiendish glee in browsing through the pages of the Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc. catalog (http://www.terra novanurseries.com).

There are 37 items new to American horticulture among the more than 400 selections. We’re talking about farfugiums, hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), persicarias, tiarellas and a host of heucheras, folks.

Last, but not least by any means, is the familiar Thompson & Morgan seed catalog (http://www.thompson-morgan.com), this year trumpeting flowers such as Sugar ‘n’ Spice sweet pea, ideal for growing in hanging baskets, Pansy Envy, so named for its pale olive-green blooms and Osteospermum African Moon, for growing in dry, problem areas of the garden.

This is a British firm which put down roots on American soil (New Jersey) and has winnowed down its selections to those best suited for this side of the Atlantic ocean.

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, a trained master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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