The New Year is here, which among gardeners is our season of great expectations. Just like when you look forward to a vacation, the anticipation phase of pre-planning the garden deserves to be celebrated.
To maximize your pleasure, I recommend this three-stage strategy: Bask in the colorful images provided by your favorite seed companies, and then study the backstory on things that spark your interest. Give the new information time to meld together in your brain, and forge ahead into real garden planning.
I’ve been doing this for the past week, so I’m ready to share my shortlist of gotta-try new varieties for temperate climate vegetable gardens.
Cool Season Openers
The first seeds I start indoors are onions, and it’s always best to go with fresh seeds. Tender spring onions (scallions) can be grown at tight spacing and they are great for companion planting, so they are a fun first crop of spring. Crystal white varieties like ‘Ishikura’ set a high standard, but I can’t stop thinking about ‘Apache’ scallions clad in purple, or the aptly named ‘North Holland Blood Red’ variety. One of these will surely make the cut.
I’ll be making room among my brassica seedlings for ‘Fioretto’ cauliflower, a novel “stick cauliflower” that separates into tender, broccoli-like stems. This is how all cauliflower wants to grow in my garden, so why not make the most of its natural tendencies? In stores, small packages of ‘Fioretto’ are carrying high price tags, and I always like to grow costly things for almost free.
When the soil warms up enough for direct sowing, I’ll be planting a little patch of ‘Black Nebula’ carrots for roasting – the best way to bring out the nutty spiciness of super-nutritious dark-fleshed carrots. I also plan to include a few ‘Black Nebulas’ in the flower garden, where the big umbels of barely lilac flowers can support tiny pollinators and serve as summer cut flowers.
I’m looking forward to growing yellow-fleshed ‘Elfe’ potato, which you are as likely to encounter at the produce shop as in a seed catalog. These are the popular Albert Bartlett yellow potatoes sold in Great Britain. Creamy oval ‘Elfe’ potatoes have a strong following on both sides of the Atlantic, with plenty of disease resistance in case you get swamped by rain as much as I did last year.
The deluges didn’t bother my tulsi basil, which I’m now using to make fragrant winter teas. A new selection called ‘Krishna’ produces rosy pink leaves that keep their color when dried, so I’m planning to introduce it to my garden as a long-term reseeder. The rainy weather triggered my first ever outbreak of downy mildew in regular basil, so I plan to grow this year’s crop in containers, high and dry on the deck. I’m also looking to the ‘Everleaf Emerald Towers’ basil variety to prevent problems this year, because it resists downy mildew and fusarium, grows great in pots, and is super slow to produce flowers.
Good canning tomatoes are a high priority crop for me, and I like my paste tomatoes to be big, because large tomatoes are faster to peel, chop and can. Every year I try a new variety, and this season’s pick is ‘Giant Garden Paste’, which produces firm red fruits weighing a half a pound each. It shouldn’t take many of those to fill a jar! Among slicing tomatoes, I have high hopes for ‘Chef's Choice Black’, a red-purple beauty with great disease resistance and the promise of 30 or more fruits per plant. Count me in!
Wildflowers for Wildlife
As I visualize the garden to come, I hope to have a puddle of pollinator-friendly flowers near the garden’s center, starting with a seed mixture like Bee Feed flower mix, which includes over 20 different species. Whether you choose a seed mixture for hummingbirds, butterflies or winter birds, you will surely discover a few flowers that love life in your garden, which is what trying new varieties is all about. It many ways, it’s an exercise in expecting the best.