After the rush of Christmas, there are two things that arrive in the letterbox in my household: travel brochures and seed catalogs. Now these may seem like unrelated items but I think there are strong parallels between the two. Both offer glossy photographs of an idealized result from your purchase, both have beautifully composed write-ups about the benefits of choosing their offerings and such escapism is particularly attractive on dismal wet January days!
Of course, there are many types of travel brochure – and gardener – which set me thinking about similarities with where I get seed from:
- Gardening store multipacks of vegetable seed: very similar to the classic budget package holiday – everything standard, cheap and exactly as expected
- Individually picked packets of seed for each carefully considered vegetable variety: just like the 'make your own holiday' sightseeing tour where you pour over travel guides and decide where to visit beforehand - expensive but you know exactly what you're trying to achieve and it's tailor-made to your choices
- Challenging exotic seed found from the more obscure catalogs - melons and avocado in a cold climate, or quinoa and mizuna: The activity holiday, where it's the excitement of the challenge as much as what you achieve
- Seed swapped over the fence with a neighbor or fellow plot-holder: that kind of muddy camping experience where it's just as much about the shared experiences of who you meet as the end result
The trouble with seed catalogs is that they sell an idealised view of what your harvest will be – building up expectations to unrealistic proportions. It's rather the same dilemma presented by holiday brochures: you can go to the most perfect holiday location in the world but you always take yourself and that's where reality meets the idealism of the catalog. With seed, the reality of your own garden and soil conditions is the biggest factor in success, not the wonderful new strain of seed that has super-growth properties.
So this year, I'm choosing to buy my seed from a different catalog. The 'Real Seed' collection maintains that seed companies sell seed developed for uniformity and perfect soil conditions – just what large scale farmers want but not ideal for your average hobby gardener. Instead they offer heirloom varieties that have stood the test of time and just work well in real gardens. No glossy pictures, no hard sell – they even tell you how to save seed so you don't have to buy it from them next year if you choose to! It's the kind of authentic honesty that is noticeably absent from the big-name catalogs. The results ... well check out my blog in 6 months and I'll let you know!