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Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Let the seed-catalogue fun begin

Autumn officially begins on Monday and soon the new year’s seed catalogues will begin arriving.
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Benefine, a new frilly endive listing this year in the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalogue, lasts longer than most other varieties before bolting to seed.

Autumn officially begins on Monday and soon the new year’s seed catalogues will begin arriving. Over the years I’ve come to regard a handful of them as stellar in their wide range of interesting listings, the quality of the seeds and the reliably fine results they yield in beautiful flowers and tasty vegetables.

As they arrive in the fall and winter, I leaf through the pages of these catalogues with care, in particular as I come to categories of personal special interest. I look for new and unusual varieties, for example, among the lettuces and tomatoes, calendulas and nasturtiums. I have a special fondness also for bitter greens like endive, mizuna and radicchio. They perk up salads and have many health benefits.

Sometimes, I'll notice that a catalogue has replaced a longtime favourite variety with another consider to be an improvement. Whenever that happens, I'm impelled to try the new along with the old to see whether, in my garden, the new variety proves to be superior.

An example this year was among the curly (frisee) endive varieties. I always grow this green vegetable. It’s pretty in the garden and in salads, I like the tart flavour, and it's not easy to find in grocery stores.

When I first saw Rhodos listed among the frilly endives in the William Dam Seeds catalogue, I had to try it. I'd lived for a year on Rhodes, in the village on Lindos, in my mid-20s. Rhodos turned out to be a reliable, long-season producer of abundant, attractive and tasty green salad material. I've grown it ever since.

In the years since Rhodos first appeared in the Dam catalogue, a few other companies began listing it. One was Johnny's Selected Seeds, whose catalogue lists a stunning selection of lettuces, lettuce blends and other leafy greens.

In its 2019 catalogue JSS replaced Rhodos with a variety called Benefine, described as a “beautiful, ruffled head of light green leaves that are deeply cut and toothed.” The inside, “heart” of the head “blanches to reveal creamy, tender-sweet leaves ideal for gourmet salads.”

I was skeptical, but as I observed both Rhodos and Benefine in the garden I did find that the replacement variety did produce a more substantial head that also lasted longer in good useable condition than Rhodos. A worthwhile experiment.


A Venetian Carnival. Sometimes I make a conscious effort to extricate myself from a well-worn rut in variety choice. Almost every year I grow the heritage annual morning glory called Grandpa Ott’s together with climbing beans on tall wire fencing. The large flowers are a rich purple-blue with violet, fading to white, centres that shine in sunlight. they are simply gorgeous.

For something completely different this year, I selected Carnevale di Venezia, “a festive mix of pink and blue flowers striped and streaked with white” in the William Dam Seeds catalogue. The blooms are smaller than Grandpa Ott's but they are plentiful, and charming. The unusual name, together with the catalogue photo, captured my attention. Stokes Seeds lists three forms of this morning glory in its “Venice” series — Blue Bicolor, Pink Bicolor, and Venice Mix) and notes they are Fleuroselect novelties. In my experience, flowers highlighted by this European committee are always good.



Orchid meeting. The Victoria Orchid Society will meet on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Gordon Head United Church Hall, 4201 Tyndall Ave. Fred Clarke from Sunset Valley Orchids will speak about “Catasetinae Species and their Cultivation.” The evening will also include a display of members’ orchids and a sale or orchids, potting mix, and fertilizer.


View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Red. For this meeting the entrance will be the lower door off the church parking lot on Admirals. Michael Fox will share observations on his 15 years of volunteering in the Royal B.C. Museum Native Plant Garden. The garden, with its over 400 species of native plants, is a local treasure. Michael will describe its colourful origins and the subtle changes he observes in his weekly visits. Visitors and new members are welcome.


Apple festival. This year’s Salt Spring Apple Festival is slated for Sunday, Sept. 29, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fulford Hall and 18 other venues. An added feature this year is the sale of potted apple trees. Tickets (with maps) at $10 adult, $5 students are available on festival day in Fulford Hall and at the Ganges Tourist Information Centre. Details at


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