Archive for January, 2011

Night gardening

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Here we are in the early moments of January and while I relish these winter days for hibernation and reflection, I can’t help but fill my thoughts with what’s to come for the new garden season. These thoughts are of course influenced by seed catalogs (thanks Barbara!) and the fact that I just dug up the dahlia tubers on the 4th of January! All in good shape I might add…except for those that met the mean end of the shovel. Oops. While I started this task in the light of afternoon, it soon became clear that I would be finishing as that light began to fade and quickly as it will in winter. Once again, on the verge of night gardening!

If you have ever found yourself in the midst of a project as the lights are going dim (gardening wise, of course), you know the joys and treacheries of this type of insanity, I mean gardening. As the light diminishes, the brain kicks into high gear and one no longer ponders what needs to be done, one just DOES IT! This can be refreshing as I know for myself I spend a good deal of time second guessing, when the first guess was fine in the first place.

The sights and sounds seem to rearrange at night as well. I notice the street noises and lights and the people sounds more instead of the birdsong and the sun of day. The greens are deeper and the reds and purples fade into the gray a bit while the white flowers glow and new scents fill the air.

Photo of the Moon flower from John K.’s garden

Even now, after the solstice as I visit the garden and my cold frame covered greens, often in the late afternoon, the change from light to dark is quite abrupt (and cold!) so I must admit I prefer the long and lingering light of the warmer months (though I am very thankful to have a garden to visit, mid-winter, in the dark). Not to mention the curious looks from our garden cats (winter or summer), no doubt peeved that someone is observing their antics after dark and tripping the motion sensor light on the shed. Serious cat secrets no human should observe…their words, not mine.

If you’ve never stayed to play in your garden after dusk, I highly recommend it, if not to garden then just to observe. It’s a whole new world.

Photo of Brugmansia,  Angel’s Summer Dream

– Gwyn MacDonald

Winter Dreams & Seed Catalogs

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Dreaming over seed catalogs helps gardeners survive January and February when it is too cold outside to garden. Here are some of my favorite seed companies — please post a ‘comment’ if I am forgetting one of your faves and I will add it to the list.

The most beautiful seed catalog ever is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Baker Creek is fantastic source of heirloom seeds collected from all over the world by founder Jere Gettle and his wife Emilee. They carry some truly unusual seeds — including 49 varieties of eggplant and separate sections on American, Asian, and European melons.


Comstock Seeds is New England’s oldest seedhouse, dating back to around 1811. It has a colorful history which you can read about in the catalog (for example, they were the first to package seeds in paper packets the way we buy most of our seeds today). The company is in the process of being restored to its former glory and the catalog has over 250 heirloom varieties which were offered by Comstock Ferre over the years.


Seeds from Italy is the U.S. mail order distributor for Franchi Sementi of Bergamo, Italy — Italian seedsmen since 1783 and the oldest family-run seed company in the world. They specialize in traditional heirloom Italian varieties, selected over the years for good taste & productivity. The majority of Franchi’s vegetable seeds are still commissioned and continue to be produced in their home regions. Specialty seeds from Southern Italy are supplied by a small company in Andria, Bari. Their online catalog also contains recipes to help you “think like an Italian cook.”


Johnny’s Selected Seeds, based in Winslow Maine, is an employee-owned company with a huge catalog of vegetables, fruits, flowers, farm seed, herbs and very nice tools & supplies (they even have Eliot Coleman designed tools). They specialize in “organic” seeds and plant breeding (they developed Bright Lights Chard). Johnny’s was founded by Rob Johnston in 1973. Rob called his company Johnny Apple Seeds until he discovered that another company had copyrighted the name. Many SWQV Gardeners order seeds from Johnny’s.

Burpee Gardening is perhaps America’s most famous garden catalog. Founded in Philadelphia in 1876 by W. Atlee Burpee, who later bought Fordhook, a farm in Doylestown, and transformed it into a world-famous plant breeding facility. I look to Burpee for new varieties and hybrids (like the fabulous Brandy Boy tomato), although it is fun to think that many of Burpee’s “new” varieties have now become heirlooms — like their Fordhook Giant Chard, introduced in 1934 & now sold by both Burpee and by Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa is also an excellent organization with a great seed catalog! Heirloom seeds from around the world. They grow out most of what is in the catalog and if you become a member you have access to seed savers and their treasures from around the globe. Very cool! [recommended by Gwyn]

– Barbara Mc