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The Humble Gardener

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Seed Catalogs and Plant Sales: Spring is Coming!

Before cell phones became so commonplace, we anticipated and welcomed the annual arrival of phone books. It was very exciting to see the plastic wrapped phone book just waiting for a quick check to see if we still existed. What has now taken the place of the phone books is the arrival of seed catalogs. And the notice of an upcoming plant sale. These both make winter survivable from this northern gardener's perspective. And, golly, these both make winter pretty darn exciting.

Author Josephine Nuese writes, "Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the year...for gardening begins in January with the dream." Seed catalogs exist to make the home gardener dream. The view of our gardens in late January is fairly depressing, the weather is cold, and the barren land makes me want to put the comforter over my head until April. The pictures and descriptions in the seed catalogs bring an optimism to this home gardener, undeterred by the realities of past garden failures. Here is a picture of a gargantuan pumpkin grown by a skinny little kid, beaming toothlessly beside it. The written blurb assures the reader that the plant practically grows itself-after all, this little kid is living proof! Another picture shows vibrant blooms on a huge vine that allegedly needs little or no care. Well, gosh, who doesn't want that in a garden? Page after page of pictures and promises leave me daydreaming of the horticultural potential of my gardens. Reality takes a back seat; actually, reality is hanging out of the trunk and splattering on the road as I happily daydream away.

Soon I realize that I should quit gawping over the pictures and pay attention to some facts. Ah, this beautiful vine is not hardy in our growing zone. I am pretty sure that we're not moving to the South to garden anytime ever, so this plant gets scratched from my wish list. And another gorgeous bush that I envisioned accenting our front entrance requires shade or partial sun. Since that spot gets 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight in the summer, it's the wrong plant for the spot. The gardener's credo, "Right plant, right place", pops into my head, so I move from the shade loving plant section regretfully and seek out a better choice for the front door area.

I am mindful of a former shade garden that we planted 30+ years ago that became, with the removal of a very ill, towering hard maple tree, an instant sun garden last summer. This tree removal necessitated the transplanting of the shade plants that had thrived happily for three decades; the empty garden calls to me. I start making a list of sun loving plants for that garden. In winter, choosing gorgeous garden plants with an utter disregard for cost fills many hours. Paring the list to a purchase we can actually afford is the next step.

With cost and choice in mind, I turn to the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation site. Getting the January newsletter is right up there with phone books and seed catalogs. The opportunity to order native plants, grown locally by Pleasant Prairie Nursery-plants chosen for our growing area- makes purchases by the home gardener economical and simple.

Last year, tired of mowing a big lawn and wanting to establish a pollinator garden, I ordered plants from KCSWCD. The plants were strong and healthy with a good root system. I planted them in mid-June, the pickup date for orders, and by early fall, I had bees and butterflies swarming the new garden. This year's offerings are different from last year's, which means I will be happily sending off my order even though the deadline for ordering plants isn't until May 30, 2018. (Fish and trees are also offered; provides info on orders of fish and trees. Deadline for fish and tree ordering is April 13 and March 14 respectively.)

So at the end of the day, my orders are finished, my imagination runs unfettered, and the snow and ice do not seem quite so daunting. Chip asks if I can help him transplant herb and vegetable seedlings that we started a few weeks ago. It feels good to play in the potting soil and plan where each plant will go in this summer's garden. We set aside the plants we are growing to donate to the Knox County Nursing Home plant sale Mothers' Day weekend, happy to see that they are growing well. I might get one or two or ten plants from that sale to take home. Josephine Nuese is right: the dream will get us to spring.

Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.


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