Seed catalogs can help

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak
On Gardening

Spring brings the wonderful scent of Sarcococca, early bulbs, a returning of birds from the south … and catalogs. They brim with wondrous plants: bananas that will grow right here in the Pacific Northwest, burgundy beans, green flowered Chrysanthemums, orange Heucheras, even tomatoes that will ripen! Strange Voodoo plants and pumpkins big enough to win contests — they’re all there.

It isn’t hard to imagine all these wonderful plants growing in your garden, but it is sometimes hard to let reality settle in.

There are many wonderful catalogs out there, both in print and online. For seeds, some of my favorites are Parks Seeds (, Territorial Seeds (, Renee’s Seeds (, Thompson and Morgan (; and Ed Hume Seeds ( For tomatoes or peppers, try Totally Tomatoes ( or Tomato Growers Supply Company ( John Sheepers ( specializes in kitchen garden seeds. For Heirloom seeds, try Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( or the D. Landreth Seed Company ( that has been in the seed business since 1784 and carries a nice selection of heirloom seeds as well as modern hybrids.

Plant catalogs are a wonderful way to have unusual or outstanding plants in your garden. Sometimes what we long for just isn’t available locally. For unusual flowers, foliage or vegetation, one of the premier catalogs is from Plants Delights Nursery ( Others include Bluestone Perennials (, Annie’s Annuals (, White Flower Farm ( and Raintree Nursery ( Be sure when ordering plants online that they will grow well here in zone 8 and that they do not need high summer temperatures.

Before you order either plants or seeds, give some serious thought to your garden. Maybe you have room for 50 petunias or enough sun to transform your back garden into a perfect sunflower and Penstemon display, but if you have room for only a few flowers or your yard is so shaded that it will only support Hostas and Ferns, it will do better if you order accordingly. Consider, also, just where you’ll be starting your seeds. A few seeds scattered on starting soil will have to be transplanted into growing pots before being planted out, and those pots need somewhere to sit until frost is a thing no more.

If you are planning to enlarge your garden area this year, consider improving the soil first. It will pay off in better flowers or vegetables this year and for many years to come. Test the soil for acidity and alkalinity. Soil test kits are easily found. If it is too acidic, add lime or limestone. If it is too alkaline, although this is unlikely west of the Cascades, add sulphur, or cottonseed meal if you wish to go organic. Trace elements can be incorporated by adding well-mixed compost including kitchen scraps or by adding seaweed meal to the soil. Add about one-third compost into the bed. This can be rotted manure, leaf compost from last fall’s composted leaves, bagged compost, rotted sawdust or a combination of all of these. Till it in well before transplanting plants or planting seeds, and let it rest for a week or two. You’ll be pleased with the results.

Now is the time to dream with the catalogs. Let your imagination wander, then trim it back to reality and figure out where to improve the soil and add that wonderful plant or those exciting new vegetables. Think through the vegetables your family loves, the colors of flowers that look great together and the plants that will provide them. Next month, you can start to implement those plans for bounty this summer.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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