Lowenfels: Garden catalogs help ease the January blues

Jeff Lowenfels

Many of us get through the long winter because of the solstice break, which, alas, has just passed us. Through our dreary fall we mope around with no gardens to work in or admire. Just in time there are poinsettias and Christmas cacti everywhere and a fair number of trees as well. All of a sudden, out of the dark and cold and dreary, there are plants that require and get attention.

Ah, but the holidays are over and while the days are getting longer, the thrill of greenery and flowers just about disappears. This, my dear fellow gardener, is why new garden catalogs are published this time of year. They may be designed to sell plants, but their real purpose in a place with a long non-growing season like ours, is to instill a bit of enthusiasm and even hope into the gardener's soul.

I admit that most seed and plant houses have now placed their catalogs on the web and many of these have done away with print copies in the name of sustainability, not to mention cost reduction. Reading a catalog on a computer is not quite the same experience as a paper copy. Still, with the advent of the tablet, the basic need of the gardener to be able to slowly shift through pages and pages of plant pictures and dream is once again the thing to get you through until seed planting after the recycling of the trees (and, usually, the Dr. Seuss-like poinsettias) is definite.

The regular reader knows the routine. This week I urge you to take a look at a few of the must-have catalogs. These are our Northern Standards. They cater to our cold, short growing season situation. They are also used to dealing with Alaskans and understand us and our quirky, indoor starting season ways.

These all have online presences, most full of wonderful pictures and terrific cultural information that you might consider printing out or copying into a word document you can keep and add to as you come across useful gems during this webalog season. And, there is no doubt they compete with each other. Each has its own niches and there own special seeds, aka "exclusives." None sell GMO seed and are, to the best of my knowledge, selling organic seed stock.

You need to start with the local guys, Denali Seeds. They do have racks locally, but you can find some stuff not on those by using their website https://bestcoolseeds.com/. If they sell it, it grows here. This is their origin area and they have remained tried and true.

Also on the local list is Fritz Creek Gardens (http://www.alaskahardy.com/), down Homer way. Here you will find a webalog offering over 500 Alaskan grown, hardy, tried, true and tested perennials, roses, shrubs and trees. Best of all, you can go down and pick out plants people in the lower 48 pay to have shipped to them.

Next, is Nichols Nursery (www.nicholsgardenernursery.com ) run by my friend RoseMary Nichols who is a frequent guest on The Garden Party (returning to the radio on Saturday, April 7, so mark it on your calendars). This is where I get my yacons. Check out the videos.

Territorial Seeds (www.territorialseed.com ) is another great web catalog that is always on the Alaskan must have list. They also have a print catalog for those nostalgic ones out there. What a selection of tomatoes, cabbages, kales along with gardening equipment. And, in keeping with the tablet format, useful "how-to-videos."

Maine is definitely a kindred state when it comes to long winters. And that is why, Johnny's Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) is always on this list. Short season is what they select for and while originally only vegetables, they now sell flower seed as well. There is tons of cultural information on their site.

That is my list. I always want to know what are your "must have" catalogs. Let me know and why by dropping a note at www.teamingwithmicrobes.com. If you convince me, I will write it up and list it later this month. We have time, a lot of time, to delve into garden catalogs.


Garden calendar

CHRISTMAS TREE RECYCLING: Thanks to ALPAR you can and should recycle your tree at Carrs-Safeway lots in the designated areas only. Nothing but naked trees (sans stands, lights, ornaments and bags) please.

POINSETTIAS: Once the leaves fall off, cut back and shape or simply toss the plant and keep the pot.

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: now is the time to join. Discounts at local nurseries and the Garden's own gift shop and nursery. www.alaskabg.org/


Jeff Lowenfels' is author of "Teaming With Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to The Soil Food Web." He can be reached at www.teamingwithmicrobes.com