Seed Catalogs Inspire Planting Ideas for Your Garden

Mail Order Flora

Just when I was getting thoroughly disgusted with all the merchandise catalogs clogging my post office box, the first of the seed catalogs arrived. I don’t need a pair of fuzzy slippers, can’t think of anyone who would wear a tie printed with binary code, nor do I want a selection of fruitcakes and trifles. But, give me a seed catalog dedicated to tomatoes and I’ll scour the pages to find varieties that might deliver tasty fruits in my sun-challenged garden. I don’t really have much space to grow dried beans, but the multitude of varieties that are available is sorely tempting.

Here are a few of the new and intriguing plants that caught my eye in the latest catalogs. Rattlesnake is a pole bean whose pods are dark green, streaked with purple. It should be best eaten raw at a very young age to retain the distinctive color. Adzuki beans are common in many parts of Asia and now they are offered to us as well. Harvest and eat as green beans or pick the tiny cranberry-colored beans when mature for a unique nutty taste. I’ve been thinking of trying Jerusalem artichokes, and there they were, crisp tubers that will sport tall stalks with yellow “daisy” flowers in summer before its time to harvest the crop. European-type cucumbers are normally grown in hothouses, but they should do just fine in our mild climate, and I’m itching to try growing my own shallots for a change.

And then there are the hundreds of tomatoes to choose from. Although we have a very long growing season, it is often marred by lingering, cool foggy days. Early fruiting varieties and those from areas with short seasons often perform better here. Early Girl is a local favorite, but I’d like to try Anna Russian, which traveled from Russia to Oregon many generations ago, or perhaps Manitoba, developed for far North gardens that start fruiting in just less than two months. Glacier sounds like a winner and is reputed to be among the most cold-tolerant as does Oregon Spring, which promises to set fruit even in cool weather.

January Tips

• Stay out of the garden right after rains to avoid compacting the soil too much.

• Set out snail and slug traps: either shallow containers of beer, upended pot saucers, or old boards. Check daily and dispose of the catch.

• Most plants are growing slowly. Fertilize potted plants with half-strength liquid fertilizer.

• When pruning trees, follow the International Society of Arboriculture’s recommendations to remove no more than one quarter of the crown of the tree in any year.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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