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Leonard Moorehead, The Urban Gardener: Bless Garden Catalogs

Saturday, January 03, 2015


They have slipped under the green curtain. Vigilant migration into the cloud has evaporated most mail. Frozen hearts melt at the trickle. Stray migrants from the do not send catalog mailing lists arrive once, twice, another. A grin the size of Kansas and longer than winter clears the calendar. Urban gardeners understand the glee. Serendipity rules, a leaf tossed lottery has won. We are transported into space and time. Eager to spend our winnings we know we shouldn’t but cannot resist time spent browsing. Yes, we gaze at reddest, most robust, and put first things first. I love to read garden catalogs. Don’t you?

Brisk outdoors

No matter how brisk outdoors. The blue wheelbarrow wasn’t tipped and is a block of ice. The birdbath has an opalescent swell far above full. Turf crunches under foot, chickadees chirp in the arbor vitae, only the window sills provide a hint of the future in our warm homes. A quarter turn with each watering rewinds the clock. Overgrown house plants lugged indoors resolutely face meager sunlight. It’s time to embark upon the gardener’s holiday, to plot and plan, winter is the fatty season to consider spring. Seed catalogs are sentimental useful guides through crisp frost, snow, and long nights.

Apple to zucchini

Our culture is moving from the simple apple to zucchini progression of seed catalogs. I’m ok with the old approach and recall it’s time to apply dormant oil to the apricots, peaches and pears. Golden Delicious, marvelous grafted dwarf trees heavy with branches of Granny Smith are ever perfect on the page. Urban gardeners look for the smaller sizes, carefully measure best exposures, ultimate height and width. Not for us the majestic walnuts someone planted two houses over luring every squirrel for blocks. Diligently burrowed right through mulches the walnuts reliably germinate far into the summer, long lost to their thrifty planters. Dwarf, semi-dwarf fruit trees are better in town. Carefully note on the margins, I begin to compare, rate, lust for more space. I’ll spray the trees, maybe tomorrow. Two or three times during winter is enough to dramatically decrease most pests and disease. I do remember to pull off the old “mummies”, potential infections into the compost. 

Covers too much

Maybe the seed catalog covers too much. Impossible! Each suggested cultivar is a tease. Behind  named cultivars is a long history of nameless heroes. North America has given plants to the globe, our most vital export, food. Our pluralistic demography introduces unfamiliar cultivars and sometimes nearly transformed varieties of domestic plants brought home. It’s easy to stray from beets. Not so quick, beets are a cold weather plant and thrive in small patches. They are the first to germinate in cold soils. Large interesting seeds are a plus for small and older fingers. Forgive their pedestrian manners. Plant thickly in the first sunny spots. Their foliage is delicious. Eatable at any stage of growth, beets are uncommonly good fresh from the garden. Plant way ahead of anything else and use soils many overlook in their haste to push spring into a vision of daffodils or peas. Successive plantings in one space will increase yields. Beets, peas, and then pole beans thrive in the same location over all but the coldest months. 

Prompt the imagination

Seed catalogs prompt the imagination. Each variety of bloom, vegetable or fruit reminds us that each has its season. Relentless marketing and opportunity have idealized concepts of appearance and availability. Consider the joys of in season produce. Compare early, middle and late maturing dwarf fruit trees. With little effort it’s possible to extend the peach picking season for weeks simply by planting quick maturing examples. The nurseries will co-operate with you and ship bare root saplings at the best time to plant. Don’t delay. Plant trees for the future. Endorse hope. Our mobile society discourages patience. Gardeners are cut from a different stripe, our world is one endless progression. Take the leap of hope and dare to believe you too will grow one variety after another. Hmm, a new color in petunias.

Tried and true

Many of us stick with the tried and true. Urban gardeners grasp every opportunity to cultivate our patches, plots and pots. Each seed catalog offers the latest advances in plant husbandry. Studious gardeners search for cultivars known for taste, insect and disease resistant types or those, like the pear, which are self- pollinating. Keep an open mind and consider those never found on market shelves. Raspberries are famous examples of poor shipping soft berries. Grow different types together, their mutual needs escape from narrowly defined market ideals and focus upon taste, colors, and size.  An urban gardener must needs chose plants, explore a little and find your own pace. An open mind is more than helpful to gardening. Not fastened to delivery times or sales, we can pay attention to the fruits and vegetables forgotten in the haste to prolong shelf life or conformity. 

Huckster images

Maybe the paper edition appears full of huckster images of hibiscus blooms the size of children’s heads. Impossibly purple iris are given glossy cover pages. Coupons, deals, free gifts are common distractions What fun! If the A-Z approach runs out of gas near fennel, maybe a catalog for a single plant arrives. Who knew there were so many beans? Urban gardeners do not fear winter, we are too much fun immersed in seed catalogs and visions of gardens to come. 

Crocodile tears

Make lists, notes, discover new plants to try. Gogi berries were a first for me last year and an instant success. No-where was it described that these ultra-beneficial berries guaranteed to add years of gardening have no taste or flavor? Dispel suspicion, yes, those grapes really do come in bushels of deliciousness. Come what may, I hope more catalogs filter through the do not send message. Like a secret vice, I welcome them just as I know it’s better to receive the online version. My crocodile tears tell all.  

Leonard Moorehead is a life- long gardener. He practices organic-bio/dynamic gardening techniques in a side lot surrounded by city neighborhoods in Providence, RI. His adventures in composting, wood chips, manure, seaweed, hay and enormous amounts of leaves are minor distractions to the joy of cultivating the soil with flowers, herbs, vegetables, berries, and dwarf fruit tree.


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