Gardener’s delight: Looking for seeds? Browse new listings in these catalogs

It’s time for the annual “Garden Plot: Pick of the Seed Catalogs.”

The most eclectic catalog of them all

As always, 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 seed — all presented in a style that’s reassuringly scientific, “germinatingly” helpful and wonderfully libertarian.

Among their (always eclectic) listings that are new this year are:

  • “Chumu Chumu,” a Bolivian sage with dark red tubular flowers that can be made into a sweet red tea (and leaves that are used medicinally).
  • “Za’Atar Farsi,” a strongly aromatic pink-flowering perennial that is said to be the most potently-flavored thyme used in Mediterranean cooking. (Yes, they carry parsley and rosemary, too …)

The J.L. Hudson company is as quirky as their selections; by making a purchase, you agree not to use their seed in any form of genetic engineering and they don’t have a phone number.

But you can order online or request an incredibly retro black and white print catalog (a tactic I strongly recommend) at the J.L. Hudson website.

Guaranteed perennials

In the horticultural trade, perennials are known as “plants having the ability to live for many years — had you not killed them.”

Bluestone Perennials helps gardeners try and defy that definition by supplying carefully packed plants with a 100 percent guarantee. And they only carry perennials.

New to the Bluestone catalog this year are several Astilbe, a plant family whose members thrive — and bloom — in the moist, shady spots so many of us are “blessed” with. The wonderfully named “Chocolate Shogun” has bold, bronze leaves and pinkish flowers, while “Delft Lace” has it all: dramatic blue-green leaves and apricot-colored flowers borne on glowing red stems.

Want to attract birds and butterflies? Bluestone has 11 new varieties of Coreopsis, including “Red Elf,” a showstopper with magenta-red petals that “frost with white during the hottest part of the season, then return to a velvety red when the weather cools.”

(And it isn’t “new this year,” but my rock ‘n’ roll roots demand that I mention that they also have a Coreopsis named “Jethro Tull,” which, I will add, is itself a name with a long horticultural history predating the band by a century or two.)

Order online or request a print catalog on the Bluestone Perennials website.

Big tub tomatoes, double-duty squash and peas

Gardens Alive! is known as a premier supplier of nontoxic pest and weed controls, but this time of year, their catalog is also filled with seeds and plants — often of varieties designed to be disease-resistant or to thrive in unusual circumstances.

New additions this year include their “Big League” tomato, which Gardens Alive! said bears the largest love apples “of any true container variety”; “Tromboncino,” a disease-and-pest resistant squash that can be picked young and enjoyed like zucchini or left on the vine to mature into a nutritious winter squash; and “Petite Parsley,” which is not an herb but a snap pea with edible shoots that make for an early springtime treat just two weeks after sowing the seed. (And the sugary snap peas that follow are carried on short vines that need no support.)

This just in: Grateful Dead snap peas

They love their tomatoes, but for me, the star of the 2018 catalog from the W. Atlee Burpee Company is their new “Sugar Magnolia” — a snap pea like no other I’ve seen and one that won’t get lost on the vine like regular green-colored peas.

These three-inch-long pods are a showstopping purple so vibrant, it looks like it belongs on a tie-dyed T-shirt from the ’70s. Even the flowers that precede the peas are a mix of violet and deep purple! (For those keeping score, that makes three roll ‘n’ roll band references so far.)

Also listed as “new this year” is “Lazy Housewife” — a legendary heirloom pole bean that Burpee first introduced back in 1885. You can pick the fruits early and enjoy them like regular green beans (eat them fresh, stringless pods and all), or you can let them mature into perfectly round drying beans that look exactly like little pearls and are said to have a unique rich and creamy taste. Everything old is new again!

Order online or request a print catalog on their website.

Leave your poor plants alone; but don’t you get taken down by ticks!

Confused by the D.C. region’s roller-coaster weather? Well, so are the plants.

But there isn’t anything you can do to make things better if your spring bulbs pop up prematurely, or — like me — one of your forsythia bursts into full color a couple months ahead of time. In fact, you can do a lot of damage if you try and “help” your plants with emergency mulching, pruning or — worst of all — feeding. So, if something blooms that shouldn’t, just enjoy the show.

But, do protect yourself: I swatted a female mosquito that flew up to check me out in my front yard when the temperature kissed 60 degrees on Thursday. And, I can guarantee that ticks are very active on these enticingly warm days, especially when the ground is wet.

Warm and wet equals massive tick attacks, so do enjoy the nice days, but be sure and do a good tick check when you come back inside.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated Public Radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and Garden Editor for WTOP since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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