Seed catalogues plant dreams

The seed catalogues are here, and I try not to read them when I'm hungry. I know I should order seeds based on what will make the most of my garden's space, but then I start turning pages, noting what's new this year and hallucinating smells from the kitchen.

What could be more impractical than the Chires baby sweet corn offered by Southern Exposure? You get two- to three-inch ears, like the ones in Asian food, on normal-size plants. But what could be more fun to grow and play with? And they ripen before the corn earworms can move in. Check mark.

Then here comes Seeds of Change, describing the way Charentais melons taste: "aromatic sweet flavor with a butterscotch finish." So true. And they offer a new, reliable hybrid called Kiara F-1. Do I have room for it? No. Do I want it? Check mark again.

Burpee now has the orange-skinned Goldetti spaghetti squash that grows on compact plants. Not sure about its flavor, though. Question mark. But I will try Brokali, the company's "sweet" and "tender" broccoli-kale cross.

There is no way I will resist the Midnight Ruffles loose-leaf lettuce from John Scheepers. Nearly black with "flounced, serrated edges," it sounds like a costume from "La Traviata." And it "stays fresh and sweet through hot spells." Sold. I'm also signing up for the Cheyenne pepper from Johnny's Selected Seeds, a long, red, tapered cayenne type that's medium-hot, so you can eat more of it without pain.

Seed Savers Exchange won my award this year for most stunning cover, blazing with purple vegetables. I'll order its Lemon Drop cherry tomato, which took top prize at the company's 2010 Tomato Tasting. I'm giving my Best Catalogue Prose Award to Fedco, along with my order for Spice Boys cinnamon basil, recommended "for Middle Eastern or Greek cuisine."

Second only to Scheepers in its focus on cooking is the unadorned Seeds From Italy catalogue, bursting with great traditional varieties. Owner Bill McKay's passion for Italian food and the way it should be cooked makes up for the catalogue's dense type and tiny pictures. I give him a special No Hype Award for his description of Chantenay carrots, which are "short and squat and sometimes have little knobs" but are the gold standard for "carroty" flavor. I'm tempted by his favorite squash, the wrinkled-skinned but superbly sweet butternut squash rugosa. I might grow his Gobbo di Nizza cardoon ("Hunchback of Nice"). He dropped the more primitive wild version. His reason: "It was mostly a big thorn bush, and I could not find anything very edible at the end of the growing season." Thanks for the tip, Bill.

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of "The Garden Primer."

 
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