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Helen Chesnut: A guide to best of new seed catalogues

Like many other keen home gardeners, I delight in each year’s new seed catalogues as I explore their pages, seeking to replenish supplies of longtime favourite, super-reliable varieties and looking out for new and interesting items to try.
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For beauty in the garden as well as flavour, the Salanova lettuces from Johnny's Selected Seeds are superb. These ones are in the Salanova Home Garden Mix.

Like many other keen home gardeners, I delight in each year’s new seed catalogues as I explore their pages, seeking to replenish supplies of longtime favourite, super-reliable varieties and looking out for new and interesting items to try.

Seventeen 2018 catalogues are on my desk now. Here are a few outstanding features of some. Typing a catalogue name into a search engine will allow you to order a catalogue or place an order online.

• West Coast Seeds. An indispensable growing guide for novice and veteran gardeners, with at-a-glance planting charts for vegetables, herbs and flowers. WCS is almost unique in its superbly easy-reading format: Every entry is pictured, with a description directly below the photo. No need to search around the page to see what an entry looks like. Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom vegetable and flower specialist, has a similar layout.

WCS catalogues and seeds are available in some local garden centres.

• Johnny’s Selected Seeds is an employee-owned company that is popular among my local farmers’ market growers for its exceptional salad blends, especially the gorgeous and tasty Salanova lettuces, and for its cut flowers. JSS is famous for its breeding program, which has produced many award winners — several pumpkin varieties among them.

• William Dam Seeds has good prices and a broad selection that includes European vegetable varieties like the German-bred ‘Siderno’ container tomato. Numerous new vegetables and flowers are added this year. I’ll be trying ‘Cupcake Blush,’ and unusual cup-shaped cosmos in shades of pale pink.

• Lindenberg Seeds — a catalogue for the frugal among us, with a broad enough selection to meet most gardeners’ needs. Two of my favourite lettuces , Little Gem and Tom Thumb, are both listed at just $1.50 per packet.

• Stokes Seeds made a master move last year when the company began putting out two catalogues. As well as the usual jam-packed version popular with commercial growers, with all Stokes’ available varieties, they published a simplified, more colour-filled catalogue of most celebrated flowers and favourite home garden vegetables and herbs. This one also highlights new varieties and gardening aids.

Megaton, from the Stokes traditional catalogue, produces the thickest, most impressive leeks I’ve every grown. In both catalogues is the new ‘Evening Scentsation,’ a fragrant, spreading petunia that I’ll be growing to bloom beside the patio door.

• Chiltern Seeds has a catalogue with 172 pages packed with an encyclopedic listing of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. You can find almost everything here — even the Corydalis ochroleuca that I so much appreciate. Most of the daphnes and a tree peony in my garden are grown from Chiltern’s seeds. A separate vegetable book lists traditionally favoured British vegetable varieties like ‘May Queen’ lettuce and ‘Greyhound’ cabbage. Best sellers and award winners are marked.

• Salt Spring Seeds. The new publication Awesome Ancient Grains and Seeds celebrates the cultivation and use of protein-rich grains and seeds listed in the SSS catalogue, just as the catalogue’s dry peas and beans, chickpeas, broad beans (favas) and lentils — all termed “pulses” — were celebrated as prime sources of “ethical protein” in The Power of Pulses. Both books are co-written by Dan Jason, SSS owner, and are available from the catalogue, which also lists interesting selections of lettuces and other greens, and tomatoes.

• Richters is the prime Canadian source for herb plants and seeds. It’s worthwhile scanning the catalogue pages for new and interesting varieties of favourite herbs. That’s how I found ‘Phenomenal,’ a tough and hardy lavender I grow as a relatively care-free planting in a narrow bed alongside the driveway.

Garden events

Orchid meeting. The Victoria Orchid Society will meet on Mon., Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m. in Gordon Head United Church Hall, 4201 Tyndall Ave. Ingrid Ostrander will present Preparing Your Orchid for the Show (March 2 to 4). Pre-meeting plant sales begin at 7:15.

View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet on Wed., Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, 500 Admirals Rd. in Esquimalt. Carol Dancer, former head of volunteer gardeners at Government House, will speak about winter flowering plants and how to create winter interest in gardens. A judged mini-show will feature exhibits from members’ gardens and there will be a sale of plants and garden items. Visitor drop-in fee of $5 includes refreshments.