Planning a Garden with the Annual Seed Catalogue

Planning a garden and choosing vegetable varieties provided plenty of winter entertainment.

  • These siblings always had an opinion about which seeds to order.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth
  • There were many activities — such as catching bugs in jars — that were more exciting than watching vegetables grow.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth

Winter is a mean season. It shoves us around with its icy winds, and when we retreat to the warmth of our homes, it taunts us by implying that we have let ourselves go soft. Winter is the season that’s most likely to bully us.

It seems winters lasted a lot longer when I was a kid compared to nowadays. In fact, I once endured a winter that lingered for nearly two years. Then again, time passes at a glacial pace when you’re a hyperactive boy trapped in a snowbound farmhouse.

In the old days, before the internet made everything instant, our rural mail carrier was a crucial link to the outside world. One of the most important things the mailman brought us when winter pounded on our windows was the annual garden seed catalog.

The seed catalog we received always landed in our mailbox at precisely the right moment. It would arrive late in the winter, when we had been besieged by the cold for so long that we forgot what live vegetation looked like.

My seven siblings and I would crowd around the glossy brochure, marveling over the shimmering ears of golden sweet corn and the shockingly scarlet strawberries. We secretly wondered if these things were even real. After months of nothing but stark whiteness, it was hard to believe that anything so luscious and colorful actually existed.

The catalog quickly became the center of our collective attention, and we began to voice opinions regarding which seeds we should order. We had loud discussions regarding the virtues of particular vegetable varieties and began to quote promotional material to make our points.

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