I devour page after page of food growing goodness: glorious and perfect, blight and bug-free vegetables, plump and juicy berries, even the herbs evoke memories of basil-kissed breezes on hot summer days.
But the catalogue that I’ve been anticipating most is neither flashy, nor shiny. It’s this one from The Cottage Gardener, one of Canada's largest heirloom seed companies based in Newtonville-Ont.
It’s a plain Jane catalogue, printed on newsprint with simple illustrations.
But inside, it’s filled with over 650 varieties of heirloom flower and food seeds, including over 20 pages of vegetables, many rare or endangered; everything from beans to melons, peas to turnips and over seven pages devoted to tomatoes alone!
I delight in the one-of-a-kind varieties, such as the Lazy Housewife pole bean, so-named by German immigrants because they were the first beans to not require destringing; the Mexican Sour Gherkin, which produces hundreds and hundreds of tiny (1 to 2”) cuke fruits that look like mini or fairy watermelons; the Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed lettuce, an Italian heirloom with large, green leaves with a pink-red edge that are so frilly they resemble a blowsy, frowsy head of hair; or the highly-productive and excellent tasting Cosmonaut Volkov tomato, re-named in honour of the Russian astronaut who died coming back from a mission in 1971.
What I love most about this catalogue is the simple stories, uses, ‘magical powers’ and histories that accompany most varieties.
Granted, I’m a history buff but I find there’s something romantic about planning a garden and growing seeds with their own heritage. More importantly, there's also the practicality of tending heirlooms that are suited to one’s own local climate and growing conditions, and saving seed from year to year for a more secure source of food and genetic biodiversity.
So this year when I make my seed orders, I’ll go to the shiny catalogues for a couple “old reliables,” such as the Golden Dawn III hybrid yellow zucchini or the Tendergreen improved bush bean. But when it comes to growing my own seed bank with some not-so-new varieties, these simple newsprint pages offer everything I need.