2014-02-14 / From The Garden

Gardening Optimism

By Cynthia Gibson

The photographs in garden catalogs always add cheer to bleak February days. With this winter’s seemingly never-ending snow, it is nice to cozy up with a stack of the new arrivals filling your mailbox.

It is not too early to place your orders for any perennials, trees, shrubs, or seeds that you have your heart set on growing this season. Remember that any item in a catalog marked “new,” “improved,” or “outstanding” will sell out first.

To help you get your gardening plans in order, Jim Garman of Garman Farm in Middletown is giving a workshop on Thursday, Feb. 20 from 6 – 8 p.m. at Farmaesthetics Apothecary, 144 Bellevue Ave. The title of his talk is “Getting Past the Seduction: How to Navigate Seed Catalogs.” After an academic career as a professor of historic preservation at Salve Regina University, he has chosen a new outdoor way of life. He and his wife, Michelle, have a four-acre farm where they grow primarily cut flowers, lavender, vegetables, and berries. He is enthusiastic about seeds and is always looking for the latest to bring to market.

Jim prides himself on offering new early and heirloom varieties. His laugh is contagious and his fervor for growing is great fun. Let him guide you through the do’s and don’ts of seed selection. His lecture could not be timelier.

Although it is hard to believe that it is time to start seeds indoors, the cycle continues. If growing from seed, make your list and go shopping. If there is a special variety you are looking for, it can perhaps be included in a shop’s new order since it is early in the season. Chaves in Middletown and Peckham’s in Little Compton offer the best selection of seeds for vegetables and annual flowers. For the basics, Newport Hardware off Bellevue carries Hart seeds. While all of these stores sell what you may need to get started, no one discusses how difficult it is to grow from seed.

Many seeds are a shoe-in for growing, like those for large-sized zucchinis or pumpkins. Other plants, such as delphinium, provide more of a challenge. The missing element in successfully growing perennial flowers from seeds is usually a greenhouse. Grow lights help, as does placing young seedlings in cold frames when it is time for the sprouted plants to “harden-off” and become acclimated to cooler weather outdoors. While perennial flower seeds can be tricky to grow, this is the finest way to become a gardener. Especially for the novice, there is nothing more rewarding than going through the entire process and eating your first tomato produced from seed. Test your chops with the exotic Cuore di Bue, or “heart of the ox,” tomato. This Italian variety is huge and delicious.

As additional resources, there are two highly-respected websites that can prove to be especially useful as our local nurseries and garden stores take their winter breaks. GardenWeb (gardenweb.com) is a good resource for recommendations of tried and true nurseries and garden sources and is also the place to get your questions answered by hands-on experts. The site’s forums are superb and answers to your questions are usually posted the same day. The other site, Dave’s Garden Watchdog (davesgarden.com), provides reviews of nurseries and catalogs written by consumers who have tried them.

February is the slowest month for a gardener, so order your seed catalogs if they are not already arriving. Also go ahead and make your fruit tree selections before inventories thin out. Take the time now to make your gardening plans.

TO GO:

How to Navigate Seed Catalogs WHERE: Farmaesthetics Apothecary, 144 Bellevue Ave. WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 6 - 8 p.m.

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