I’m a bit dissatisfied with what I find in this year’s seed catalogs. Maybe I am a seed snob.
I think of all the flower/ornamental gardeners out there. Do they have an issue with seeds? I think it might be different: their plant suppliers are constantly hybridizing and upping the ante, keeping things fresh, or at least garish. Also, flower/ornamental gardeners often expand their holdings by getting plants and bulbs, not seeds. I know many a great gardener who deigns not plant seeds. This does not make them any less of a green thumb.
It’s not so if you’re a vegetable gardener. Seed sowing is something you danged well better be able to do, or you’re…well. You’re toast, or you’re certainly going to spend a lot more cash to get a garden going. (Your choice, I’m just saying.)
But maybe I should simply cut myself some slack. Am I a snob if I just want…choices? Like, LOTS of choices, lots of NON-HYBRID choices? I stand here atop this small mountain of seed catalogs (and rhetorically so, with my online sources) and I just KNOW it’s not even the tip of the iceberg, botanically, of what is out there. Any one featured variety of seed is simply the one variety that has somehow outdone its challengers. We weren’t all Homecoming Queen, yet that’s what our seed catalogs feature: beauties of some stripe or another (best taste being only one possible criterion). What about the REST of the class, I’m asking you. Where are the runners-up, where are the nerds and Goth chicks who wouldn’t have gotten chosen.
And then there’s the other also touchy issue of seed marketing. Yes, I’m going to talk about anti-Americanism. Actually, I am just going to bash traditional American seed choices. It’s, er, touching that most catalogs have finally gotten around to featuring open-pollinated Asian vegetables. Considering that part of the world has been gardening continuously on the same patch of land for millenia you would think that we’d have raided more than a couple of mustards, pac choy and tatsoi for our gardens, yes? What about all those beautiful little bitty pea-sized eggplants I saw with such regularity at the Hmong stalls in the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market? But maybe Asia is too foreign: well, let’s just go back to Europe, where many of us originally hail. Why only three or four choices of chickory in most catalogs? Where are all the other greens, turnips and beets? Whither the rampion? Are they simply not American enough?
I know that food preference is just about the last thing that people change when emigrate/immigrate to a non-similar country. I also know it’s the hardest thing to change if you start out life (and are thus encouraged to be) a fussy eater. “Oh, geez, he’s got to eat something, let’s just shut up and fix him a hotdog, okay?” I know, in other words, that food is a…tetchy issue, as my esteemed Southern friend Tim says. I live with a fussy eater who has enormous food issues, a ton of them garden related. (And no, it’s not our daughter. She eats anything.) And I am also sure that traditional American food choices is a factor in the limits I see even in my favorite catalogs. But we know how badly we as a country eat: why would we WANT to replicate our grocery stores in our gardens?
Seed companies, like all commerce, are going to sell what freaking sells. I know that, too. Does it make me happy that all they sell are Homecoming Queens, or F1 copies of the Queen with the Homecoming King? Nope, not in the least. And yes, I seed-save, and yes, I am a member of a seed-saving organization, and yes, I have a lot more choice ahead of me than I let on. It’s the rest of YOU I worry about.
I think we all need to fight for bigger, deeper catalogs. Especially so if you’re a new gardener, fed up with grocery store holdings and now itchy to dig. The world is sadly diminished if all you’re offered are Kentucky Wonder and Fortex pole beans.