As the days lengthen and spring approaches — too slowly for many of us — gardeners are busy planning their summer gardens.
One of the most enjoyable tasks involved in this planning process is the choosing and purchasing of seeds both for the vegetable garden and for the flower border.
There are a few points to keep in mind when doing this job so that your summer garden will be a success.
Instead of leaving seed selection until the last minute and then madly grabbing packets from the nearest seed display in the closest store, it is wise to give some serious thought to which varieties you will grow in your garden.
Even if you plan to purchase some of the plants as bedding plants instead of growing them yourself, this process will allow you to make a list of the plants you are going to buy.
Seed catalogues arrived weeks ago and if you didn’t receive one from a certain supplier, there is time to order one — contact information for most seed houses is available on their websites. These handy publications contain a wealth of information for the gardener; each variety of flower and vegetable is described in detail.
The information usually includes the colours and varieties that are available for each kind of flower and vegetable. There are often coloured pictures to make the information even more complete and to ensure that you know exactly what you are getting with each selection.
Seeding dates, height, width, growth habit, bloom time, and cultural directions are all detailed in the catalogues, as well as days to maturity (for vegetables) or bloom (for flowers), colour, shape, and plant size. You can choose the varieties that have the exact characteristics that you want.
Of course, the first thing is to choose what kinds of flowers and vegetables you are going to grow. Cucumbers? Marigolds? Cosmos? There is a lot of choice so you will have to make some tough decisions as you probably will not have the space to grow everything that you want to grow and you will surely want to try a couple of new things.
The next step is to choose the varieties — and this is perhaps the most important step when it comes to seed selection. The catalogues explain the unique characteristics of each variety and how it differs from other varieties.
Much of this information is available on the backs of seed packets, but it is much easier to digest the information when you read it at your leisure at home while perusing the catalogues as opposed to trying to frantically read all the seed packets in a seed display in a bustling store or garden centre.
Take note of the recommended planting date for outdoor planting or determine whether you should start the seeds early indoors. If it is too late to seed some of the plants you have selected, or you do not wish to grow seedlings indoors, then you probably will decide to buy such plants as bedding plants.
Many flowers and some vegetables require such long growing seasons that outdoor seeding is not feasible. If the recommended indoor seeding date has passed, then you will be disappointed with the results if you try to sow the seeds yourself, indoors or outside.
When choosing vegetable varieties, one vital piece of information to look for is the days to maturity from planting/seeding. You might want to choose an early pea, such as ‘Little Marvel’, to give you that first early crop of peas for fresh eating and then choose a later variety, such as ‘Green Arrow’, for main crop processing and fresh eating.
You also want to be careful to choose the type of vegetable you want. Do you want a summer squash for summer enjoyment or a squash suitable for winter storage? Although you might think, "A squash is a squash", that is not necessarily true — there is a vast difference between a spaghetti squash and a winter squash such as ‘Buttercup’.
Do you want a regular pea or an edible pod variety? The two types of peas are quite different, both in terms of the peas they produce and how they should be grown — one needs to be grown on a fence. Perhaps you will grow some of each type.
Choosing the correct flower varieties will mean that you get the right plants for your needs. Is the variety short or tall? Is it suitable for edging or best locatied near the back of a mixed border?
Does the flower bloom continuously all summer, like cosmos or marigolds, or will it have a flush of bloom and then provide little colour for the remainder of the season? Is it a good cut flower?
The excitement grows as we get closer to planting time and the plans for our 2014 outdoor gardens start to take shape.
With a bit of careful thought and planning — assisted by the many catalogues available to us — we will choose the plants and the varieties that will ensure that we have a successful 2014 gardening season.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.