Garden Plot: Seed catalogs, termites and sugar

WASHINGTON — The new edition of the J L Hudson “Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds” is filled with rare varieties, old favorites and seeds for plants that most people didn’t even know produced seeds. It’s all packaged in the quirkiest, most libertarian and egalitarian style imaginable.

Among their always eclectic listings are these standouts:

  • Seeds to grow your own thimbleberriesnative plants that support bees and butterflies, and whose spreading canes produce raspberry-like fruits early in the spring
  • “Violet Queen” salvia, a sage that produces dark purple flowers from June through September
  • “Trail of Tears,” an heirloom pole bean carried by Native American Cherokees on their forced march to Oklahoma
  • Chocolate-colored Habanero peppers. (Don’t get your hopes up. They are super hot, but they don’t taste like chocolate.)

And to top it all off, their prices are ridiculously low (generally $2.50 a packet), and shipping costs are a mere $2.75 for the first 40 packets of seed. (Who needs free shipping when you get two bucks change from a five?)

These guys are crazy, in a very good way. Join the madness or request a catalog at But don’t try and call; they’re off the grid and have no phone.

Have a tomato for breakfast with Paul Robeson

Gurney’s bills itself as “America’s most complete seed and nursery company.” They run the gamut from A to Z: “A” for their new high-yielding asparagus named “AsparaBest” to “Z,” for a Zinnia named “State Fair” that produces especially big blooms.

New to their pages this season (but long grown by tomato-mad gardeners) are “Kellogg’s Breakfast,” a meaty heirloom that produces huge (two pound) bright orange fruits; and “Paul Robeson,” a beyond-legendary heirloom Russian variety prized for its dark color and naturally smoky flavor.

Plus: peppers hot and sweet, seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, berries, fruit trees — even plants to grow your own coffee and bananas. (Outdoors in the summer; inside in the winter.)

Bonus: Use the code 0553924 and get $25 off your order of $50 or more. Order online or request a catalog at, or call 513-354-1491.

Stand up for gardening!

I long ago lost any love of bending over to tend my plants — and a lot of you must be standing up with me, because the new catalog from Gardener’s Supply features a number of big planters designed to let you grow what you want without taking a dive, dip or bend.

Their “VegTrug” raised planter is a generous 70 inches long, 30 inches wide and most importantly, a perfect two and three quarters feet high. And its actual growing area is up on legs, so you only have to fill a normal-sized planting bed with soil, not the whole depth.

They also have “elevated raised beds”—cedar structures available in three lengths (2’ by 2’, 2’ by 4’, and 2’ by 8’) that mimic in-ground beds with growing areas that are waist high, but that only need a foot of soil thanks to a false floor. (They also have a similar “elevated planter box” that’s on legs instead of having a false front and planters that mount right onto the railings of your deck.)

And if varmints are your problem, they offer a large selection of attractive cages for repelling rabbits and daunting deer. Check it out online at or call toll free, 1-800-427-3363.

‘Intelligent Mulching’ keeps termites at bay

One of my suggested New Year’s resolutions a few weeks back was to avoid termite issues with “intelligent mulching” instead of toxic trenches. That led to a website comment from “Johnny Cloud,” who wrote: “How is ‘intelligent’ mulching different from its counterpart? Details please?”

My pleasure, Cloud Man!

The only termites in our area are the subterranean variety. They thrive underground in moist soil, but avoid the above-ground world and dry soil. Running mulch — any kind of mulch — right up to the foundation of your home keeps that area moist and provides a protected path for the pests to pursue and poke away at your framing.

It seems too simple to be true, but the single most effective termite prevention tactic is to keep a foot of bare earth around the foundation of your home.

Get your sugar fix this Monday at the USBG

When I visited Cuba two years ago, I came to realize that their rum was great and their coffee was spectacular — but their sugar was incomparable! (Who knew that sugar could have actual flavor?!)

Like cigars, we weren’t allowed to bring home any rum or coffee, but we were thrilled that we could stuff our bags with Cuban sugar; and once back in the States we made many a convert of people who previously thought that all sugar must taste the same.

Well, you can get your super sweet tooth on this Monday in a lecture on the history, botany and production of sugar over the millennia from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the United States Botanic Garden. The lecture is free, pre-registration is required, and you will learn that there’s a very good reason this event is taking place on Martin Luther King Day.

Here’s the registration page.

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