A few hours before the temperature dropped on Tuesday night and the rain turned to big, fat snowflakes, we found ourselves dreaming of summer. We’d spent the last few weeks flipping through our favorite heirloom seed catalog, circling the varieties we might want to purchase and dog-earing entire pages we wanted to revisit.
On Tuesday, we compiled our final list, discussing logistics of what we could reasonably manage to grow this year in our own garden, trying to be realistic about the amount of time we could devote to decorative and edible landscaping in the side flower beds we’ve mostly avoided in previous years, and brainstorming for a smaller relatively hands-off plot in our church’s community garden.
So much to think about. What would get sown inside in coming weeks versus what could wait to get planted outside? What would work best for companion planting to save space and enhance the nutrients of our soil?
So much to look forward to during this week of winter weather advisories and electric blankets.
There’s much to be said about gardening as a metaphor. It’s all over the Bible, especially in the parables of Jesus. It’s a metaphor for spreading the gospel, a metaphor for the health of our souls, a metaphor for the way we need to live in community with one another and with God. I am the vine, Christ tells us. You are the branches. The harvest is great but the laborers few. Faith like a mustard seed. Vineyards. We’ve got gardens at the beginning, gardens at the end, gardens in the middle. Seeds sown in all kinds of soils.
Certainly the practice of saving heirloom seeds is a metaphor for something.
Certainly the fact that we sat and planned our garden in the face of temperatures dropping radically outside and a wintry forecast headed our way could be a metaphor for something, too.
But who cares about metaphors when, really, all I wanted to say is this:
I love our heirloom seed catalog.
When I work through it, I spend my time poring over the pictures. In fact, I almost never circle items that don’t have an accompanying picture. My thorough husband, on the other hand, reads the beautiful, descriptive paragraphs about each of his selections.
I see purple green beans and I want them. He reads flavor descriptors, height of plant, how long it takes to germinate, how long they produce fruit, whether it freezes or cans well (you get the idea), and then decides what would work best for our garden.
Hmmm. I’ll stick with the purple beans, thank you very much.
(I’m only partially kidding.)
While I do tend to pick varieties that are accompanied by photographs in the catalogs, I also read the descriptions, which are part of what is so great about this sort of seed company. The descriptions are helpful, thorough, and sometimes even funny. I came across a tomato variety that was recently discovered in Russia (that is, it’s been grown in Russia forever, of course, but was only recently discovered by someone who preserved the seeds to distribute them to froufrou gardeners like us) and this variety is reputed to have a shelf life of many months. A tomato! That can last in storage without preserving it first! That’s crazy, my friends, in case you aren’t gardeners. You should be astounded. Even the paragraph in the catalog sounded almost incredulous that such a plant could exist.
But it does.
Or this other variety recently ‘discovered’ at a roadside stand in rural Italy. The woman who found it named it after the town in Italy and also after her father’s kosher deli in New Jersey. It was something original like that at least. I’m sure I’m getting the details wrong, but that doesn’t really matter. The point is that the story behind the seed doesn’t really make a difference in the fruit that is produced, but this seed catalog offers you the story anyway. And stories are part of the grace you’re offered when you order them from a small, family-owned company. You find out what things taste like, where they came from, what type of garden they work best in (in the ground vs. in pots), if they’re popular to sell at markets. Why one variety has the word “Amish” in its name and another has to do with the devil. (We ordered the Amish version, which is good for canning.) And you find out the story.
Oh, and if there’s a picture, you also find out if they’re pretty.
Though schools were cancelled around here yesterday, our snow has pretty much melted already. I heard the familiar snapping and cracking as the icy slush slid off the roof throughout the day today, and the ten-day forecast heads us into the 50s and 60s, believe it or not. I’m pretty sure spring isn’t on its way yet, but just this week I started thinking I wouldn’t mind so much if it were.
I’m ready for sowing our seeds, watching the seedlings break through the soil in yogurt containers on our window sills, then transplanting and praying for their survival, ready for weeding, watering, mulching, and weeding some more, for harvesting and sharing and eating our produce, making summer garden ratatouille, grilled zucchini, and fresh tomato and pesto sandwiches, and for canning and freezing and socking it all away for next winter.
And, I suppose, I’m ready for the metaphors.
PS I like writing about gardening, though I'm not much of a gardener. Awhile back I wrote a Texas Schmexas blog series about gardening lessons, and if you select "Garden" from the Topics drop down menu over on the right (or just click here) you'll find all sorts of Texas Schmexas posts loosely related to gardening. (This is one of my favorites.)