The time to order seeds is nigh. If you order early, you can ensure you’ll get what you want. Shutterstock/eurobanks

Our 2023 garden, seed and supply catalogs arrived weeks ago, definitely before we were finished with our 2022 gardens. I tried to ignore the catalogs, but when prodded (by my wife, Nancy), I looked at a few for ideas on gift-giving.

Because of the warm autumn, I didn’t finish gardening tasks – a final weeding, harvesting leeks and raking the parts of the yard where we still rake – until the first week of December. That’s when we’d normally start getting ready for Christmas.

Normally, I don’t begin to dig into catalogs until after Christmas (and keep at it until Groundhog Day) in preparation the following spring. As a service to you, my readers, I spent some time picking out highlights from some favorites. But bear in mind, I still haven’t done a thorough reading.

Fedco takes a lot of my time for several reasons. First, it comes as two separate publications – Fedco Seeds and Supplies at 176 pages and Fedco Trees, Shrubs and Perennials at 72 pages – both black-and-white on basic newsprint, definitely not as flashy as its competitors.

In addition to wonderful seed, perennial, woody and bulb options, the catalog is filled with stories, explanations, editorials and pen-and-ink drawings that can keep you entertained for several days.

One short article in the Trees catalog, titled “The Good, the Bad and the Knotweed,” notes that, according to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the “Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 93.4 percent of the world’s oceans.” The changing climate means that maybe we should welcome some trees that are not native to Maine. The article mentions American sycamore, which thrived despite this year’s drought.

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Nikos Kavanya, in the catalog introduction, noted that she is leaving the company after more than 40 years. I’ve always enjoyed her insights.

Typical of the non-gardening but still entertaining items in the apple section of the Trees catalog is “No Direction Home.” The piece says horses were native to North America when the land bridge to Asia existed. Those horses spread apple seeds all over Asia and to the European Caucasus mountains. I have nothing to contradict or support that information, but it is food for thought.

Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester is another favorite. In business for 43 years, the company specializes in smaller packets of seed, which means that people with small garden plots can plant an entire packet and not worry about saving seed over the winter.

They may look like unripe cherry tomatoes, but in fact these are the fruits of the potato plant. (Don’t eat them! They are poisonous.) Photo by Tom Atwell

One item I definitely am going to try is the Clancy potato. In July, I discovered that some of our potatoes were producing fruit that looked like small tomatoes. They are called potato berries, and they contain seeds. I read at the time that it is not practical to plant those seeds because they will not replicate the parent. Clancy, an All-America Selection winner in 2019, does grow from seed. The potatoes have reddish skin and a fairly creamy flesh. It can be grown in containers or directly in the garden.

We grow a lot of potatoes, saving some as seed potatoes at the end of each season. I don’t need Clancy for its food potential. The real purpose of our garden is to entertain us. I think this potato will be entertaining.

The company where I originally bought many of the seed potatoes I grow from year to year is Wood Prairie Farm, an organic, family-run potato farm in Aroostook County that has expanded into other organic seeds and vegetables.

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Wood Prairie Farm is offering four new varieties of potatoes this year. The one that sounds best to me is Sarpo Mira, a red-skinned, disease-resistant variety originally from Hungary. On its website, the company says that many varieties are in short supply and could sell out – a disadvantage of waiting this late to order.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Winslow produces an attractive, 208-page, glossy catalog that sells a wide variety of vegetables – many developed by its staff – in addition to gardening equipment. Fedco and Pinetree also sell gardening equipment.

I wrote about the All-America Selections-winning Sweet Jade squash and its creator last week, but that’s just one of about 75 introductions listed throughout the catalog. We might order some of the other new varieties in addition to Sweet Jade.

I try to do most of our plant and seed shopping with Maine companies. I have met and written about many of their workers, and I like to help the local economy.

But we do buy from out-of-state catalogs occasionally, and our favorite is Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They specialize in vintage bulb plants, both those planted in spring and fall, some going back to the 1600s. Some Maine growers produce Old House Gardens bulbs, and I received a warm reception when I visited while in town for a niece’s wedding.

More catalogs will be arriving. Reading those, and studying the ones I’ve mentioned here more closely, should keep me entertained on many frigid Maine days.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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