Thursday, January 15, 2009

Someone Else Is Suffering The Same Disease

Feeling the Need for Seeds

By Barbara Damrosch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, January 15, 2009; Page H04

"A little madness in the spring," wrote Emily Dickinson, "is wholesome even for the king." Gardeners experience more than their share of spring madness, and it is already well underway. The seed catalogues have arrived.

Even if we have enough seeds left from last year to feed the neighborhood, we are powerless before catalogue prose. I might not have room in my plot for Long Pie pumpkin with its "virtually stringless, smooth and brilliant orange meat," from High Mowing Organic Seeds ( Or for Borlotto Lamon bean, "THE bean for pasta fagiolo," says Seeds From Italy (, but what's two more little packets? And how about Barbecue rosemary from Richters (, with stems strong enough to pierce kebabs? How did I ever live without that?

Prowl through the pages and you will get a colorful snapshot of contemporary gardening tastes. Cute, small and pretty still count for a lot, judging by the frequent appearance of Lil' Pump-Ke-Mon, a single-serve white pumpkin with orange and green stripes. Hansel and Gretel, a matched set of slim, extra-early eggplants that can be eaten young (he's purple, she's white), are everywhere, too. So are Speckled Swan gourds. Sweet tooths will love the new Honey Bear squash from Johnny's ( or John Scheepers's Kestrel beet ( Iceberg lettuce is back. Pawpaws have caught on. Fenugreek, used in curry, is suddenly common. Gourmet associations abound in names such as Pinot Noir pepper and Black Truffle tomato, both from Burpee ( And the slow-food concept reigns. According to George Ball at the Cook's Garden (, "Slow is the new fast."

Breeders are always working to make vegetables behave. Does Confetti cilantro at Territorial ( really resist bolting? Is Plato squash from Johnny's really non-prickly? Let's try them and see.

Heirlooms are as popular as ever, and not just in treasure houses such as Baker Creek ( or Seed Savers Exchange ( A beautiful peach-colored squash called Australian Butter shows up time and again, as does Bennings Green Tint, a flavorful pattypan squash. Arugula selvatica (sylvetta), a wilder form of arugula, is, surprisingly, at Stokes (, a no-nonsense catalogue aimed largely at commercial growers. Even the obscure green agretti, the latest "in" vegetable at fancy Italian restaurants, according to Seeds From Italy, is now carried by Johnny's as well. I'd better check it out.

It's not just the seeds. I'll have to get High Mowing's Cow Pots, made of dried, pressed manure. And singer Greg Brown's CD, "Sin, Salvation and Saving Seeds," recorded at the Seed Savers farm in Iowa. And how about Burpee's own credit card, printed with a big red tomato on it? Looks as though I might need that, too.

No comments: