Wednesday, April 9, 2008

New Annuals for 2008

So much to do ... so little time .... before I open my five greenhouses to the public May 1.

Meanwhile, we still have snow on the ground and the possibility of digging perennials seems far far away. This is a photograph of the path to the smaller greenhouses. Fortunately my son has been lugging plants back and forth for me and he is king of the shovelers.

Meanwhile, I have been writing for a local paper and will include the columns in this blog. As a joke, I gave myself the name, "The Garden Hoe" and they are using it!

Here is my first column - - -

Every spring gardeners are deluged with seed catalogues touting “new,” and “improved” or “exclusive” flowers and vegetables. Sometimes new introductions prove their worth, like ‘Big Beef’ tomato or ‘Profusion’ zinnias. Or they fade away into plant oblivion, like ‘Sundrops’ squash and ‘Sunkist’ marigold.

Although I’ve been gardening for 40 years I still fall prey to the lure of glowing prose and pretty pictures.

Vesey Seeds 2008 catalogue features photos of a new tomato, “Applause,” on their cover, promising “exceptional size” and “early maturity.” Johnnies Seeds asks gardeners to try “New Girl” tomato (62 days) which will be “...better tasting and more disease resistant than ‘Early Girl’.” ‘Polfast’ is a new hybrid from Poland that is “extremely early” (54 days) with “flavor similar to good-midseason tomatoes.” Heck, I’ll try them all. Any vegetable you get out of your garden is going to taste better than one you buy at a chain grocery store.

Despite global warming, we zone 4 gardeners are always on the lookout for short-season varieties. Last year was a terrific growing season, but 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004 were cold summers, so we shouldn’t get complacent. Unfortunately early season vegetables often lack the flavor of later varieties, so I recommend planting some early varieties for a sure bet, followed up with some later maturing plants.

The All American Selections (AAS) have been around for 75 years. Judges from all over the country trial and then select what they consider the best new plants on the market. This year they have only selected three winners, two flowers and one vegetable. Osteospernum ‘Asti White’ is the first African Daisy offered from seed. Viola ‘skippy XL Plum-gold’ has cute “whiskers” and ‘Hansel’ is a miniature eggplant producing fruit 55 days from transplant.

The viola is worth a try with its pretty “abundant” 1 and 1/2 inch blooms. I’ll pass on the osteospernum, because even the cultivars grown from cuttings bloom sporadically for me.

Park’s Seeds pours on the superlatives when describing the new eggplant. “A breeding breakthrough extraordinaire!,” they write. “Hansel is the first eggplant that lets you choose when you want to harvest it! The glossy, dark purple, mild sweet fruits are ready at 2 inches, yet keep their tender texture and rich flavor as they grow, so you can harvest them at any time up to about 10 inches or so!”

So far, so good, (although I could do without all the explanation points). But then the zone 4 gardener reads with amusement: “At last, no more armloads of eggplants going to the neighbors or to church because you just can't eat any more.” Uh oh - they aren’t talking to short-season gardeners. Still, it’s worth a try.

I order seeds from about 20 different companies, but if I were a home gardener who could just pick from one, I’d stick with Pinetree Garden Seeds out of Maine. Their prices are extremely reasonable, the number of seeds in a packet makes sense for the smaller garden, and the selection is great.

You can find all the old favorites here as well as lots of fun varieties to try. This is where I am getting seeds for ‘polish linguisa’, “a huge sausage shaped tomato that weighs two-thirds of a pound” and ‘sunrise serenade’, a double morning glory.

Of course anyone who lives in the Cabot area could skip buying seeds altogether and go greenhouse hopping and enjoy the great selection offered by their neighbors.

My next column will be about recent developments with perennials.

Pinetree Seeds PO Box 300 New Gloucester ME 04260 (207)926-3400

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