The Hamilton Spectator

Winter’s time for staying warm and sorting seeds


The gardening season has begun. OK, maybe not outdoors. Despite a long spell of moderate weather through most of January, no one was out planting tomatoes. Then winter returned.

I much prefer a long-lasting, deep, insulating blanket of the white stuff on the garden. It reduces the chance of roots heaving, protects borderline hardy plants and shields shrubs from sneaky critters that take advantage of the situation, gnawing away at exposed branches.

If you feel like gnawing away at a few branches, when it’s sunny out and the snow isn’t drifted deeply, it’s a perfect time to go forth and prune. Trees and shrubs are dormant and it’s easy to see what needs trimming. Remember: no pruning of spring-flowering shrubs until after they’ve bloomed. And leave the hydrangeas alone if you don’t know the species. Some bloom on last season’s growth, and cutting them back now means no flowers this summer. There’s not much we can do about the weather, so indoors is where it’s all happening, and that means seeds.

Given all the available sources, in catalogues and online, the seed options are overwhelmi­ng. One glance at all the new and improved varieties, and I’m inclined to think the seed companies believe we all have backyards the size of ball fields. There are at least 24 varieties of lettuce or green stuff that looks like lettuce and dozens of carrots in all shapes and colours. There’s even a rainbow carrot blend, a seed mixture that combines the whole colour range of carrots. Vegetables are becoming as colourful as flowers and some of the more vivid lettuce would make an attractive filler in the flower bed.

When it comes to flowers, I’m a sucker for anything labelled new. Then I must ask: is it new, or is it just a new name? Labelling plants with a catchy name to attract the shopper has been a trend for some time. True botanical names are beginning to go missing in the descriptio­ns.

Varieties of heuchera with names like marmalade, caramel and berry smoothie sound more like flavours of ice cream. And I’m not going ask for a black negligee at the garden centre. It would be so embarrassi­ng when the cashier at the checkout announces over the PA that a gentleman at the cash would like a flat of black negligees (it’s a variety of Actaea simplex, commonly known as bugbane).

Granted, botanical names are challengin­g, but at least they keep order in the plant world. Poor old Carl Linnaeus, father of binomial nomenclatu­re, would not be at all amused.

Then again, I suppose it may not be a bad thing if goofy names get more people out of the mall and into the garden. However, when sourcing seeds, it’s helpful and more reliable to know the genus and species of the ones you’re seeking, and you’ll be able to find more informatio­n than what’s on a seed packet.

I’ve already started a few seeds indoors. I don’t usually begin so early — March is soon enough for most things. Start fast-growing tomatoes now and you’ll be out of space before they can be planted outdoors. With such gloomy economic prediction­s all around, I’m predicting 2023 will see even more people growing tomatoes and other vegetables in the backyard.

You can’t trust the stock market, but a single packet of seeds gives an unbelievab­le return on investment. For a couple of dollars for a packet of seeds — oh, are they a victim of inflation as well? Even so, that packet can result in enough carrots to feed a herd of rabbits, and they won’t care about the shape, colour and taste.

 ?? ?? Winter in the garden
Winter in the garden

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