An angry wind slams snowflakes against the sunroom window. The thermometer reads -38 C. Snow threatens to devour the peak of a garden trellis, and a trio of metal daisies appear to shiver with every gust.
It’s the perfect day to snuggle up with a stack of garden catalogues and a bowl of soup laced with Ring of Fire peppers, Cobra tomatoes, Hercules onions and Atomic red carrots.
Seed catalogues start filling the mailbox even before New Year’s resolutions have been broken. Every company has something new and improved, or just different, to seduce newbies and make green thumbs drool.
But forget red tomatoes, orange carrots and green cucumbers. That’s so Grandma’s garden. Think Yellow Pear tomatoes, White Satin carrots and Lemon Apple cucumbers. Corn comes in “every colour known to corn” on ears of Painted Mountain. And goodbye boring yellow beans, hello red dappled Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco, which beg to be served with a glass of Merlot.
Cucumbers are round, tomatoes are not. Beans are a yard long, carrots are short and stubby. Orbit, a lime green cauliflower that looks like delicate ocean coral, could serve as an accent piece on the coffee table while Peppermint swiss chard would look attractive in a flower arrangement.
Chioggia beets, also called candy cane beets, look like fun with red and white rings inside that resemble lollipops. Sadly, the catalogue says the rings fade when cooked.
Edamame soybeans have grown in popularity as a snack food. Stokes suggests eating Beer Friends warm with a little salt.
If Park Seed company has its way, chocolate cravings will give way to Nectar cherry tomatoes, a “powerhouse of fabulous ultra sweet flavour with over-the-top yields.”
Plant breeders not only like to tinker with normal shapes, they also like to flirt with unusual colours. But while burgundy is a favourite in flowers, clothing and pillows, slapping burgundy on brussels sprouts isn’t going to change a thing.
And then there are vegetables that should not be messed with. Whoever heard of a face turning beet yellow? And it’s hard not to be feel embarrassed for white asparagus poking out of the ground.
With a leaning toward lilies over leeks, it’s time to head to the middle of the catalogues where the flower section begins.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “if you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily.” Profound. But better yet, sell both loaves, hit the garden centre in July after the flowers have finished blooming and are marked half price and buy four.
That’s what happened last year: only four loaves of bread were sold — twice. But the Serene Angel, Sweet Rosy and Magic Star double oriental lilies were replacement plants for coral bells that rotted. And the Asiatic Purple Eye, oriental Cobra and Rodolfa were needed to shade a clematis.
(Gardeners’ rule: required plants do not count in the gardening budget.)
Google “new lilies” on the internet and you will learn about the discovery of an arum lily in Australia. The plant gives off an unusual odour similar to “burnt-out electrics” to attract the rove beetle. Such lilies aren’t unusual, apparently. Some lilies smell like rotting meat to attract the dung beetle. The bright side of -40 C? No dung beetles.
Veseys, based in York, P.E.I., offers the Lionhart lily that looks like a black spider that tiptoed through yellow paint. The fact that there is no pollen to stain clothes or noses is a definite bonus. They would look stupendous next to Lollipop lilies and Jamaican Me Crazy from Botanus.
Echinacea, commonly called coneflower, is another favourite, simply because it blooms and blooms, unlike day lilies, a baffling invention.
Not being a fan of anything yellow, the unusual Passion Flute coneflower with little spoons at the end of each petal gets a pass. But wait. Another catalogue offers those same spoons in cream on Ferris Wheel and in pink on All That Jazz. And it’s cheaper if you order three.
Coneflowers come in all shades of pink and purple, orange and red. Some have wispy petals, others are daisy-like. Some wear a pompom on top. Cranberry Cupcakes and Hot Papayas would go well with a few creamy Milkshakes.
Hostas are a favourite for shady areas of the garden. You might think there is only so much a breeder can do with a leaf, but like toothbrush inventors, they keep dreaming up new ways to deliver more sparkle.
Whether fat or skinny, sleek or curvy, leaves can be dappled, striped, splashed, veined, streaked, dappled, variegated, corrugated or puckered.
Yet no matter how creative breeders get with lime, chartreuse, cream, forest, moss, sage and celery, it does not make red. Note to breeders: grab a normal tomato, suck out some red genes and give gardeners some colour already.
The fun part of being a breeder would be getting to name your creation. A hosta with elongated leaves twist and turn and look rather haggard on Electrocution, but undulate like a roller coaster on Wheee! And while Goodness Gracious hosta fails to excite, Seducer is enticing. And starting out life light green but promising to turn yellow in the sunshine is an appropriate name for Banana Muffins.
The names of plants have been shown to influence consumers. A study by Cornell University found that kids ate more carrots in the school cafeteria when they were called X-Ray Vision and more broccoli when it was called Power Punch instead of vegetable of the day.
This may explain flowers called Secret Passion, Lust and Romance.
Poppies are on the boycott list until someone figures out how to tame local gale force winds. It is too de-pressing to watch downturned heads only hours from blooming turn into naked stems by late afternoon.
However, the densely packed Black Cloud peony poppies look mighty determined. Lauren’s Grape, Coral Reef and Patty’s Plum poppies have all adorned the garden in past years, but not one made a repeat appearance the following spring.
However, they have been replaced by an unknown pink variety with petals that look like shredded paper. They bounce back after being smacked by sideways rain and wind, looking only slightly worse for wear.
Peering through the frosted window, it’s hard to resist adding a few Garden Party lilies and Mercury Rising coreopsis to the list.
They say patience is a virtue. For anyone else lacking this virtue, checking germination times on seed packets will save money and frustration. For instance, some begonias or passion flowers can take up to 10 months to germinate. Hello? Three hundred days? That’s 40 weeks of pampering until a seedling makes its debut. Then there is after-sprouting pampering. You might as well start a family.
With an order an arm’s length long, it’s time to call it quits. The driveway needs to be shovelled.
But the anticipation of Thai Dragon peppers and Wildfire arugula will warm innards.