GROWING FROM seed is so worth it. Despite all the time, patience, and, yes, agony, that go into thinning out tiny seedlings as they push so hopefully up out of the soil.
But consider the advantages. Starting with seed provides a far wider selection of flowers, herbs and vegetables, including more nutritious varieties. And the economy of it — how else can most of us grow a field of sunflowers or enough squash to last the winter? And then there’s the gratification of nurturing plants along from the smallest, most inauspicious-looking kernel of life. And we all love feeling like we’re getting a jump on the season.
Every time a poppy, cosmos or moonflower blooms from a near-microscopic dot I stuck in the ground weeks or even months ago, it’s like participating in the miracle of creation. I never get blasé about it and wonder over each little green tuft poking up out of the soil. Not least because I so rarely bother to label them.
Now’s the time to ponder the possibilities in those tempting seed catalogs. If you still prefer paper catalogs to show up in your mailbox, most websites offer them at a click of a button.
For its color photos, personalized descriptions, and highly curated selection, I usually start with Renee’s Garden Seeds (reneesgarden.com) in Felton, Calif. New this spring and already selling briskly are ‘Purple Sun’ carrots from Holland. Plump, vigorous growers rich in antioxidants, Purple Sun are crisp and delicious raw or cooked. I’m ordering a new Tuscan kale called ‘Baby Leaf’ because it’s a cut-and-come-again kale. This means multiple harvests from the same plant, and leaves mild and tender enough for raw salads.
For quick, easy color, Renee offers a tidy new trailing nasturtium called ‘Little Firebirds,’ ideal for containers. The flowers range from coral to pumpkin and burgundy, shown off by variegated leaves. And if you love poppies as much as I do — and what plant comes quicker from seed? — check out ‘Mexican Tulip’ poppies with soft, ferny foliage and silky blossoms the color of sunshine.
Be sure also to check out offerings from local and regional seed companies:
Territorial Seed Company (territorialseed.com) in Cottage Grove, Ore., is a great regional resource, offering seed thoroughly tested in Northwest conditions. Organic, heirloom and open-pollinated seed is clearly labeled. Is offering a bewildering number of exciting possibilities a complaint or a virtue?
Ed Hume Seeds (humeseeds.com) is a local, family-owned company — many Northwest gardeners grew up following Hume’s gardening advice. The Web page is clunky, but filled with information about seeds tailored to cooler climates and shorter seasons. And if you don’t get your seed order in, most area nurseries stock Ed’s seeds.
Nichols Garden Nursery (nicholsgardennursery.com) is a quirky, family-run business in Albany, Ore. Rose Marie Nichols Magee offers a wide variety of seeds, with an emphasis on herbs, and smaller-scale vegetables for growing in containers.
And further afield:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (johnnyseeds.com) is a favorite with many gardeners, despite being located in Maine. Quality is high, and they sell such a tempting variety, including lots of Italian vegetables, like white eggplants (‘Clara’) and ‘Tongue of Fire’ beans.
Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org) is all about heirlooms, so you’ll find they have unusual varieties from kohlrabi to tomatillos. And you’ll be supporting a nonprofit dedicated to saving genetic diversity.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org