Catalog cover

Maine Gardener: In Which We Catalog Garden Catalogs

My rule has always been that people shouldn’t check garden catalogs until the New Year. The year that is coming to an end should be spent finishing the fall chores and enjoying the holidays.

I have to stop living in the past.

With supply chain issues and shortages of everything including seeds, you should probably have your seed orders already. I admit I made the problem worse: I placed a few orders in advance.

When the Fedco Trees, Shrubs and Perennials catalog appeared, I immediately checked to see if it offered Red Astrachan apple trees. It was, so my wife, Nancy, and I spent a rainy day browsing the pages, selecting what we wanted, and placing our order, including the red Astrachan.

Because they contain so much enjoyable information, I will spend a few chilly January hours reading the other Fedco (Seeds and Supplies) catalogs and other catalogs. But if you will be seriously disappointed if the seeds or seedlings you want are sold out, order quickly!

Wood Prairie Farm, an Aroostook County organic potato farm, attends the same old school I did — or maybe it’s just suffering from pandemic-related delays. In mid-December, the farm notified customers by email that it was working on its catalog, which would be mailed out shortly.

Sunflowers are among the plants that attract pollinators, according to field trials conducted by Wood Prairie Farm in Aroostook County. Rich Abrahamson / Morning Watch

The catalog will have a new section offering organic beneficial flower seeds. The company conducted field trials to determine which flowers were beneficial to bees, non-bee pollinators and other insects that attack predators of potatoes and other crops. The new section includes 25 beneficial flowering plants, such as sunflowers, zinnias and nasturtiums.

As every year, Wood Prairie has a new variety of potato, also “Baltic Rose”, which has red skin and golden flesh. Fedco is also offering “Baltic Rose” for the first time.

This image is a composite drawing created over several years by members of the Fedco catalog production team: Laura Childs, Elizabeth Smedberg and Yvonne Montpelier. Originally the river driver was a public domain image of a river drive with no background and no mountains. Montpelier transformed the logs into potatoes. Seven years later, Smedberg joined the team, rediscovered the image, and added some of the background and moonscape. This year, Childs completed the scene by adding life to the water and turning the image into the cover of the catalog. Maine Gardener Tom Atwell, for his part, appreciated the teamwork. Fedco Seed & Supplies coverage courtesy of Fedco

The catalog I spend the most time on every year is Fedco Seeds & Supplies because it’s full of fun goodies and so much great information. I love the pen and ink drawings, and I especially liked the potato river on the cover.

This time I was pleased to find a list of about 50 seeds produced within 100 miles of Fedco headquarters in Clinton, and another 50 within 500 miles. It also has vendor codes, with #1 being small vendors, including Fedco personnel, and #5 being multinational corporations engaged in genetic engineering. Syngenta, a maker of neonicotinoid pesticides, gets its own number 6.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester is simpler than other local catalogs. With the exception of the cover, it is printed on newsprint – the way you would hold it now if you get the dead tree edition of the Press Herald – and includes clear and precise descriptions of each article, alongside ‘a photograph.

In addition to flower and vegetable seeds and garden supplies, it has sections on containers and the best seeds for them, bee-friendly seeds and supplies, gift items, books, and – in a sort of leap they’ve been doing for years now – teas, knitting and soap making. We order from the catalogs I mention in this column nearly every year, but Pinetree is the one we go to when we find out mid-season that we need something.

Old catalogs of Johnny’s Selected Seeds. File photo by Jeff Pouland/Morning Sentinel

Our Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog for this year has yet to be released, but their website is easy to use. Johnny’s is a leading seed company, having introduced many All-America Selection flowers and vegetables over the years. On the website, the homepage lists new varieties for 2022, some 223 items including vegetables, flowers, farm seeds, fruits, herbs, organic plants, and tools and supplies. The company is local – it is based in Winslow. Another reason to shop there? It belongs to the employees.

Let me mention three foreign companies that Nancy and I use.

Old House Gardens, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializes in heirloom flower bulbs. We have a collection, of sorts, of antique bulb plants on our property, many of which came from Old House. We visited the business a few years ago when our niece got married in Ann Arbor. This is a small company, headquartered in a (relatively large) garage, with less than 10 employees, all friendly and helpful. The company offers excellent bulbs for all seasons, many of which are produced by small farms across the country, including at least one in Maine.

We also buy from Kitchen Garden Seeds who stock a good variety of items, especially flower bulbs. Located in Connecticut, it’s almost local.

Dixondale Farms, an onion specialist in Texas, has a lot of great information, and I’ve been ordering onion plants from them for several years. This year, its catalog noted that the old reserve Copra onion has been phased out, replaced by Patterson. I checked Fedco and Pinetree, and saw that they had also dropped Copra. I missed it, but luckily we use Cipollini as a white keeper.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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