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  Mike's Gardening Tips

Let's get the season started by checking out some seed catalogs

The British company Thompson and Morgan has some nifty new varieties this year: A compact sweet pea for hanging baskets called "Sugar 'n' Spice"; a new pansy with olive-green flowers named 'Envy"; a coconut-scented Nemesia called "Shooting Stars"; and "Legend", a hybrid tomato that's been bred to resist the very destructive blights that often ruin entire crops of summer's favorite garden fruit! They also have a nice selection of organic seeds, certified by England's old organic organizers, the Soil Association. On the web at www.Thompson-Morgan.com; or call them toll-free at 800-274-7333.

Do you garden with a Southern flair? The Park Seed catalog has been a favorite below the Mason-Dixon line for many years. New this season from Park is the "Fresh Look" Celosia; producing very large ten-inch high "cock's comb" flowers in yellow or red. The "Razzleberry" hybrid tomato, an especially pretty space-saver, produces its "berry colorful" fruits on compact, determinate plants. And FOUR new clematis, including the reblooming white "Alabast", and "Konigskind", a blue beauty said to flower for three to four months! On the web at www.ParkSeed.com ; or toll-free, 1-800-845-3369.

Tomatoes ARE, of course, the most popular garden edible. SO popular, there are at least two seed catalogs expressly for tomato growers!

The Totally Tomatoes catalog has 34 pages of nothing BUT; new this year are love apples with the names "Vintage Wine", "Christmas Grape" and "Yellow Jelly Bean"; lots of neat pepper seeds too. www.totallytomato.com; or toll-free: 1-800-345-5977.

The Tomato Growers Supply Company catalog fills up 28 of its larger-sized pages with love apples, including classics like Box Car Willie, Arkansas Traveler, Pink Ponderosa, Mortgage Lifter and Jersey Devil; pepper and eggplant seeds too! www.tomatogrowers.com; or toll-free: 1-888-478-7333.

Long time listeners know that I'm a fierce advocate of organic gardening. And so, my personal favorite catalogs are the ones featuring seeds grown with respect for the earth.

At the top of the list is Seeds of Change; everything this Southwestern company offers is organically grown, and their gorgeous catalog shows very clearly that organically grown plants are second to none for blooming beauty. www.seedsofchange.com; or toll-free: 1-888-762-7333.

Many varieties in the famed Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog are organically grown; most of the rest are raised in a sustainable manner, the Maine-based company devotes a share of its profits to organic causes, AND their catalog is packed full of great growing information. www.johnnyseeds.com; or toll free: 1-800-879-2258.

Speaking of being kind to the good old 'oith, the venerable Burpee Seed company is introducing a new line of organically grown seeds this year--and they have long had a policy of never offering 'treated seed'--that's the nasty practice of coating cute little seeds in nasty old toxic chemicals; and Burpee don't never do that! But they DO always offer a host of GREAT new varieties, like the crazily colored "Psychedelic Spring" viola--these pretty posies positively GLOW with color, and like all pansy family members, are deliciously edible; and the crazily shaped "Gadzukes" zucchini, whose raised ribs create star shaped slices! Southern listeners note: Burpee also has a marigold called "Nema-gone" that is the perfect variety for plowing under to kill all the nasty root knot nematodes in your soil...And I'm pleased to report that despite my skepticism, last year's new hybrid tomato variety "Brandy Boy" more than lived up to the hype--producing huge numbers of delicious Brandywine-like fruits, despite seriously soggy summer weather. www.Burpee.com; or 1-800-888-1447.

Interested in an old-fashioned 'seed catalog' that carries a little bit of everything--including all the classic varieties? Gurney's has it all--from legendary "Blue Lake and "Kentucky Wonder" string beans to the gigantic "Mortgage Lifter" heirloom tomato; pretty peonies, dazzling ornamental grasses and a HUGE selection of fruit trees, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries....whew! I'm exhausted--and there's lots more pages! Get a copy online at www.gurney.com or call them at 513-354-1491

Henry Field is another seed catalog with an 'old timey' feel and lots of great varieties; I especially like the pumpkin selection--from the cute miniature (three inch wide) 'fruits of "Jack be Little" to the fairy-tale shaped "Cinderella" to my old favorite, the heirloom variety Connecticut Field, all the way up to the record breaking "Dill's Atlantic Giant", which can reach a thousand pounds or more--and that's only half of the pretty pumpkins in this 100 page monster of a catalog. On the web at HenryField.com or call 513-354-1494.

Of course, no listing of seed suppliers would be complete without a mention of old friend Renee Shepherd. Legendary for seeking out seed sources for the very best varieties of kitchen garden edibles and cottage flowers (with this year's new varieties, they now carry 20 different varieties of heavily perfumed sweet peas!), Renee's finds were available for many years under the "Shepherd's Seeds" label. Now her line is called Renee's Seeds, and features some of the prettiest, most informative seed packet designs in the business. Although her seeds are often of old-fashioned varieties, Renee's venues are fully in the Modern World--she has no paper seed catalog. Instead, you can order online at www.reneesgarden.com or phone them toll-free at 1-888-880-7228 for the name of local retailers who carry the seeds.

If you're in love with heirlooms--fabulous varieties that would have been lost long ago but for dedicated gardeners who kept the strain alive because they loved the plants so much--you'll be overwhelmed by the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog: 50 big pages of classic open-pollinated, time-tested varieties. But only the varieties are old-fashioned; the catlog is big and bright and packed with extremely helpful color photos. They're on the web at www.rareseeds.com or give the a buzz at 417-924-8917

And finally, you won't find a phone number to call in the "J.L. Hudson Seedsman catalog"! (In its place is the line "If your phoine doesn't ring, its me!") Subtitled the "Ethnobotanical catalog of seeds", this eagerly awaited yearly event is hands-down the most eclectic seed catalog out there. Fiercely inderepndent and devoted to the protection of free seed trading without government or corporate intervention, they offer seeds of almost every plant known to man--including many plants that experts would tell you simply can't be started from seed. These folks are specialists to the specialists! It used to be a real chore--almost a dare--to order from them, but it's easy now they've got the entire catalog up on the web at www.jlhudsonseeds.net. They may come across as a little driven--and they are--but I know the folks behind the name and they are fierce defenders of the rights of home gardeners and horticultural hobbyists. And often the only supplier of seed for exotic and interesting plants. As they say, "Preservation through disemenation!"

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