It has barely had time enough to become December and the official arrival of winter is more than two weeks away, but spring began for me today with the arrival of the first seed catalog of the year.
I can barely contain my excitement!
The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog was folded carefully into my mailbox this morning and the truth be told, they sent me two of them which is a boon because the Baker Creek catalog is beautiful, huge and worth keeping, so I have one to mark up with place markers, post it notes and bright pink pen stars indicating which seeds I want to buy for the coming year and one to keep pristine for future perusal and plotting.
I inherited my love for seed and plant catalogs from both of my parents. Dad received catalogs of bonsai, cacti and succulents on a regular basis and mother collected vegetable, herb and flower catalogs. I remember times when the biggest event of a given day was the arrival of a seed catalog and us gathering around the kitchen tablet to discuss what we were going to try and grow the coming spring.
It takes a certain kind of magic to the spirit to find fascination in shopping for nature. We are, if you think about it, pondering the creation of temporary biological Edens. This year I am already obsessed with trying to grow several kinds of Basil and Gypsy wants us to grow salad greens again! We found a type of super tiny bok choy that maxes out at about 2 inches tall. As we have no ground to plant in and do everything in containers, that one may be a possibility.
We spent over an hour flipping through the pages, marking and sharing as we went. A half dozen kinds of rare squash caught our eyes, tiny yellow tomatoes that grow like currents and get only as big as blueberries, an odd heirloom pepper that when mature looks like it has been engraved and a watermelon whose flesh is white and is supposed to be superbly sweet. We also marked Zinnias, Morning Glories and a gorgeous little flower called Butterfly Peas which can be used to make a delicate blue tea.
I am going to try and raise a type of small, white cucumber this year, grow it in a five gallon bucket and build rustic (translated as cheap) trellises out of sticks and twine. I love our container gardens, but gods, what I wouldn’t do for a quarter, even an eighth of an acre of good soil…
This year we had wonderful little successes with an heirloom variety of Crimean tomato what were red and dark green mottled and had a very earth, sweet taste to them and made wonderful Bruschetta topping. I also grew amazing little African Cherry Peppers and our one plant produced over forty peppers for the season. They were hot on a mild Jalapeno level and were spectacularly good stuffed with asiago and the roasted in olive oil.
We had an odd variety of mini banana peppers that though delicious, did not produce very much fruit and I think we may have harvested only six or seven of them and so they will be off of the list for next year.
I think next year is going to be all about the herbs, mini tomatoes and oddities like the aforementioned cucumbers.
For herbs I am thinking about growing them this year is sections of rain gutter attached to the support beams for our back deck. I have seen people growing strawberries overhead in rain gutters with amazing success and I thought herbs, grown at chest height for ease of care and harvesting would be ideal.
I once had a dear friend named Molly, who was in her 70’s and we met through a local gardening group when I lived in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Every year for Christmas (and my birthday if she remembered when it was) she would give me gift certificates to Burpee Seeds, and I always used them to purchase oddities, something I would normally not have bought for myself and through her and that habit, I found some varieties of vegetables that I confess to having an addiction to to this day.
I miss those little gift cards, but I miss Molly more. She was a curled up little apple doll of a woman who always seemed to have dirt on her hands, leaves in her hair and a smile on her face. We had been raised in different places, had different values, vastly different belief systems but once our conversation turned to the dirt and what sprang from it, we were family.
My friend Barb, an amazing author, knitter, kitty mama and all around awesome person is just as bad as I am! Or worse. She seldom ever comes to visit without seeds, seedlings, or plants that have appeared in her very green life. She not only keeps her own garden but has her hands in the dirt for several other people and places who are damned lucky to have her. I am hoping her catalog came today too so that we can compare notes.
Over the years I have given many plants, seeds, herbs and edibles as gifts for holidays and birthdays. I remember making candied violets one spring and gave them to a friend who was having a June wedding and she covered her wedding cake with them. I have some of those African peppers in the fridge right now, pickling in Balsamic vinegar along with some garlic cloves and mini onions, and I do apologize but that is ALL mine! You should smell it, it is enough to make you woozy with its sweet, spicy goodness!
I wish to grow grapes, full, heavy, glowing muscadines that I can eat off of the vine or make into wine as the mood strikes me. I want a garden heavy with harvest that will provide a tomato for a sandwich or fifty pounds of them to make sauce for the winter. I want small, delicious eggplants for moussaka or baba ganoush. I want peppers from so sugary sweet that you can’t do anything but eat them raw and ones that are so hot that they become the fodder or asinine games of who is toughest.
As I was telling Gypsy earlier, I want to have dinner parties (yes, you are all invited) where there is a menu that tells you what every vegetable and herb is and if you fall in love with one of them I want to send you home with seeds, or plants so that you can have it for yourself. That is one of my fondest dreams.
Come and sit with me my friends, in the garden of my fantasy. We will sit in the sun, with broad hats shading our eyes, we will sip too sweet tea with freshly crushed mint floating in it and listen to the thrum and hum of the bees working their bliss along the garden rows. Butterflies and moths like satin gemstones will flit around us as the dogs roll around in the tiny patch of grass that still remains.
On a small table will be a salt shaker and a bottle of olive oil and when the mood strikes us we can rise, pull off a tomato, cut it, dip it in oil and salt and let its juice drip from our chins as we drink in the taste of summer through its flesh.
We are fifteen days away from the first day of winter, and I am already dreaming of what comes next…
Take care of yourselves and each other…