By Sean Conway

Seed Catalogs Trumpet the Promise of Spring

Start shopping now for new flower and vegetable varieties

There's not much to get excited about in the garden this time of year. Most gardens, including mine, lie dormant. But one look at the counter space in my office would tell you there's plenty of expectation about spring. The 2011 seed catalogs have been arriving in the mail, and are spread out across my office. Each contains pages and pages of must-have offerings.

After gardening for many years, my back yard is overflowing with plants, and the last thing I really should be thinking about is adding more. However, the excitement sparked by the beautiful photos and lavish descriptions of plants I've yet to grow never fails to get the best of me.

Every year, I pour over the "new this year" sections first to check out the latest results from plant breeding programs across the country.

Here are a few of the tantalizing offerings I've found so far:

Burpee seed, the venerable seed company that's been in business for generations, has two new sunflowers that look remarkably different from the run-of-the-mill varieties often sold as cut flowers at roadside stands.

The first is a hybrid called Coconut Ice. Rather than the typical orange-yellow petals seen on most sunflowers, this flower's creamy white petals surround large black centers. The plant grows 4-5 feet tall and the blossoms would be perfect as a cut flowers. The other unusual selection is another hybrid called Frilly. Growing 5-to-6 feet tall, this variety's abundance of narrow, yellow, wavy petals look as if they were crimped.

Two other notable offerings from Burpee include a black petunia and a multi-branching white coneflower.

Petunia 'Black cat' is touted as the world's first black petunia, and if the photos do it justice, it's sure to be a standout. There are very few true black flowers, and I'm looking forward to seeing if this one makes the grade. If it does, the container possibilities would be amazing.

The white echinacea, or coneflower 'PowWow White', is a hybrid of the rugged plant once found growing in native prairies. PowWow White sports multiple white flowers on sturdy stems from a well-branched 20-to-24-inch plant. Coneflowers are tough and grow from Minnesota to Florida.

Each year, I try new vegetable varieties in my garden, and a few offerings from Johnny's Selected Seeds caught my eye. Johnny's is a must-have catalog for any serious vegetable gardener; the variety of vegetable seeds they offer is tantalizing.

I love fresh beets and the variety called Cylindra looks interesting. Instead of producing a short, roundish root like other beets, this one grows a long, tapered purple root. I've decided to give it a try.

For lettuce lovers -- and really, who doesn't love fresh lettuce in the early spring -- Johnny's offers a few new unusual varieties.

Paradai is their oakleaf lettuce. It forms a loose head, can be harvested early and its deeply sculpted reddish leaves would make a wonderful compliment to traditional green leaf lettuces in any salad.

Bambi, another new leaf lettuce offering, looks as much like spinach as lettuce. Its dark green, wrinkled leaves grow into mini-heads, and the catalog praises its excellent flavor and texture.

While your garden is asleep, enjoy the down time with a few good seed catalogs (or websites) and start picking out those "must-haves" for your plot.


Sean Conway's book is "Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living" (Artisan Books, 2009), describes 125 projects for backyard living.


Available at

Cut Your Energy Bills Now: 150 Smart Ways to Save Money & Make Your Home More Comfortable & Green

It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living

Sean Conway's Cultivating Life: 125 Projects for Backyard Living


Copyright ©, Cultivating Life by Sean Conway





Home & Garden - Seed Catalogs Trumpet the Promise of Spring