Like Christmas decorations, the seed catalogs appear earlier every year, and for much the same reason – beating competitors to the sales. I don’t mind, though, because I start planning next year’s garden early, and it helps to work from next year’s catalogs. In the gardening part of my brain, it’s already 2011!
I’m a lot more organized about the demo garden than I am with my own garden, both in terms of fall cleanup chores (though I did use part of the relatively warm weekend to rake up leaves and get them piled on a new sheet-composting bed) and planning for the spring. But I think I’ll manage to slip the home-oriented tasks in around the Master Gardenery ones. And at least I have lots of leftover seeds. Hey Bob – it never occurred to me not to save the remainder of each year’s seed packets! How’s that for frugal? I have seeds dating from 2005 that germinated fine in 2010, though I do check germination rates on the older ones before planting. (More on that later.)
In fact, between my own supplies and those belonging to the demo garden, I have a whole heck of a lot of seeds, too many – alas – to keep in the fridge, but I do store them in the coldest room in the house. So the first of the fall’s planning tasks is to do an inventory. This may not be necessary for those of you with only a few packets lying around. My demo garden list came to 3 1/2 single-spaced pages. I haven’t inventoried all of my personal seeds (see what I mean about less organized?) but I did list those I am willing to “lend” to the demo garden if need be. The lists are divided into vegetables, herbs and flowers, and each listing goes: common name, variety, year (printed on seed packet or guessed), and number of seeds (approximate) if there aren’t many left.
Another part of demo garden planning that you probably don’t need to do at home is choosing a theme, though by no means would I stop you if you wanted to. I don’t always have an overarching principle, but this year I decided on geography: designing “regions” of the garden based on where plant species originated. The history of how useful plants have been moved around the world fascinates me, and I hope to convey some of that fascination to visitors and to educate them (and myself!) about where their food comes from in a larger sense. It’s also an interesting way to look at the different families of vegetables and how they developed in one or more parts of the world.
So, after some research, I had several lists labeled “Africa,” “Americas,” “Asia,” and “Europe.” (Asia, Africa and Europe have a lot of crossovers, since the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Western Asia are the source of many familiar edible plants. So I’ve just had to be decisive about where I’m putting things. The labels will be pedantically ambiguous.) Then I cross-referenced with the seed inventory to figure out which plants I do not have seeds for, or not enough seeds, and started the first draft of the shopping list.
As the catalogs arrive, or as I get onto the websites of seed companies with 2011 information available, I check who’s got what I want and note that. I’ll be comparing to see where the best deals are, and which varieties I’m most intrigued by. Eventually I’ll select a few sources to order from, and then budget realities will intervene, along with the realization that although I have a large space to work with in the demo garden it is not infinite in size, and I’ll start narrowing down until I reach something resembling a final version. (Last year my seed order list had four drafts.) Painful decisions must be made, because I do not really have room for five different kinds of edible Asian gourds, or all the interesting kinds of cucumbers, or possibly even tepary beans. And any vine that gets fifty feet long if you have an eight-month warm season to grow it in is pretty much out. Seriously. Don’t even go there.
Part of the order selection process is going to be making a map of what goes where. Right now I just have a vague idea that the whole left side is the Americas (for one thing, I have to accommodate the selections of my fellow MGs who manage tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and I have already been told that I may not have large squash vines crawling up the tomato cages… so, ample space!) and the right side is everything else, and in fact when I planted garlic and shallots (Asia) and multiplier onions (Europe) this fall I had that in mind. But just how to manage the specifics, keeping in mind crop rotation and the areas that get some shade, is another matter.
However, right now I’m still in the “ooh, look at that, can I have it?” stage of planning. Winged beans! Popcorn! Rainbow Lacinato kale! Watermelon radishes! Pretty flowers! I urge you, in your own garden planning, to include this stage, because it’s the voice of your inner child (speaking to Santa Claus, if that’s where you’re coming from) and deserves to be listened to. Just let the outer adult make the final decisions.