"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

January 7, 2011

Garden Dreaming Deep

Among my collections are old vintage seed packages and catalogues. Their art is breathtaking as is much of the art and photography in contemporary seed catalogues. They know how to entice!
This isn't a very original post and I promise it won't be a long one, either. [Ha, 'Famous last words!' she says after rereading this!] I just had to gush about seed catalogues! My first batch arrived, quite early this season I thought, on Christmas Eve. Perhaps the growers know that gardeners want product for which to use Christmas cash after the holidays? I don't know, really, except that they got stashed in a pile in my office to wait for a snowy January day like this one. I just know that I like to read seed catalogues like all gardeners do.
'In February I had pored, enchanted, over the seed catalogues and their glossy photographs, dreaming of the still nonexistent garden. My idea was to combine vegetables and picking flowers in a plot just behind the house. Sitting at the kitchen table in a snowstorm I had joyously imagined Chinese peas (eaten pod and all), zucchini, cucumber, every kind of lettuce. I went wild on flowers––cosmos, zinnia, marigolds, elegant salpiglossis, annual phlox, delphinium, bachelor's-buttons––with a total disregard of how all of this was to be fitted into one small patch. After all, one has to be allowed some extravagance in February. By April all those little packages of hope were stowed away in a big tin breadbox, in case a mouse decided on nasturtium (delicious!) as an aperitif before going on to candle ends, soap, and any crumbs I might have left lying about.'
––May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep

I do not have the green thumb of my mother or grandparents before her. Each of my aunts and uncles were blessed with a green thumb, too. My friends Rosemary and Edie also have glorious gardens. Mine seem to do better in small manageable beds and pots. Like my friend Joberta Wells, who just wrote about seed catalogues in her blog, we find it easier now to just drive down to the Mennonite produce auction and various stands where we pick up fresh local produce––for about six months of the year. Besides, it is so affordable to do so that it is just cheaper than to grow it ourselves! But where is the fun in that? And, a gal can dream, can't she? Now that I am getting more rooted here, I'm starting to want to establish more gardens of permanence across the road at the farm: beds around the cottage and a 'small-ish' kitchen garden. Maybe a great big rambling heirloom pumpkin patch, too. [The nice thing about bumper produce is that I'm blessed with friends, pigs and chickens to give it to. Not that my friends are pigs or chickens.]
'Snowbound, I can at last concentrate on writing. But when the day's stint is done I pore over seed catalogues and the brochures of nurserymen, and dream of next year's garden. So, at least in my imagination, the garden is very much alive all the time . . . as with any other grand passion.'
 ––May Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep
This image is lovely in theory, but...
One day I do want a small little greenhouse to raise my more unusual flower varieties, however. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have found two Amish greenhouses up near Crab Orchard, Kentucky that seem to carry the more unusual herbs and flowers that I like. I will also start some from seed in my windows (nasturtium, for example: one of the easiest to start). In early May I will stuff my selections in large pots and window boxes and strew my porches with all manner of flowers, herbs and climbing things. I promised my husband that if my 'small-ish' kitchen garden doesn't get weeded on a regular basis this summer, or at least roto-tilled, then I will just stick to container gardening––or the prowess of Mennonites. I can't really blame him for not wanting to help: he's seen too many good intentions gone unplanted or unweeded. Besides, he will be haying most of the summer. I just want some beds to 'putter' in: putter, putter, putter. My favorite occupation.

I visited Baker Creek Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri in May 2009: they have a great thing going there with saving heirloom seeds and passing them along. Their seed packets are also stunning.

I get so many seed catalogues now and I don't mind that my address is sold to other companies because I like the diversity and variety of offerings. I've been a Select Seeds gal for almost as long as the small company has been in existence. They, too, focus on unusual heirloom varieties, but mostly flowers. My friend, Priscilla Hutt Williams, back in New England, turned me on to this Connecticut company when she planted and tended the most beautiful cottage-style kitchen garden at an historic museum house where I worked over fourteen years ago. Perennial Pleasures, up in Hardwick, Vermont, was another discovery early in our marriage. Their perennials were among the hardiest and longest lived in our garden. I even dug up some of their 'Golden Globe,' that I'd planted early in our marriage, to bring with us to Kentucky. [It was traditionally planted by outhouses in New England.] Back in New England, around mid-May, I enjoyed making runs to Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont with my friends Rosemary and Edie, to stock up on all manner of plants and starts for the season.

'As I write, snow is falling outside my Maine window, and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.' 
––Katherine S. White, 'A Romp in the Catalogues'

For a truly delightful garden-in-winter experience, read the collected essays of Katharine S. White, especially her essay, 'A Romp in the Catalogues.' Assembled posthumously by her husband, E.B. White, Onward and Upward in the Garden is a fine way to spend a winter's day dreaming about the gardens of summer. She and her husband, E.B. White, were writers for The New Yorker and had a farm in Brooklin, Maine. [His children's book, Charlotte's Web, is one of my all-time favorite books, and his collected essays are fine examples for any writer, as are Katharine's.]

Well, I'm off for my own catalogue 'romp' while my husband and boys watch a movie on this snowy evening. I'll report more as the months unfold.

I hope that you will, also.

You come back when you're ready!



  1. You ought to see my rosemary. I put two small plants in a great big pot and put it on the front porch in late spring. They grew tremendously! They are now in my utility room/bathroom for the winter and are still growing. I always wanted red geraniums for my front porch like my grandmother had but they have never done well for some reason. I gave up and started growing rosemary instead.


  2. You are lucky! I seem to kill mine once they come in and they also never flower for me!

    The trick with geraniums is FULL SUN and regular fertilizer/watering. I expect your porch faces north?

  3. This kind of book makes me drool. Must locate a copy.

  4. Rechelle, there is at least one edition in print and I'm sure earlier editions are available online, too. The one pictured above is also available (love the cover) through Folio Society. I'm not sure if the cover is a reproduction of the original or not but it is lovely. Here's the link: http://www.foliosociety.com/book/OUG/onward-and-upward-in-the-garden

  5. Have you ever read any of Beverley Nichols' garden books? They were recently re-printed. An English garden writer from the 1940s. Oh Lordy. He is powerful addictive.

  6. Oh my YES! We have a few from that era from my husband's family library and brought along to Kentucky. As soon as set up at my cottage is complete, I'm unpacking most of my books at long last! I will have to look for others.

    I hope you are following DOWNTON ABBEY on PBS? Just read that the producers they have greenlighted a second season AND a Christmas special. I am peeing my pants.


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