17 January 2006

Of seed catalogues and other garden porn

Pssst. C’mere. Yeah, you. Wanna see something hot?

Oooooh, look at the size of those!? Don’t you just want to bury your face in them?

I’ve never seen those that colour before. Gotta get me some of those.

What will my long suffering spouse say? Oh, he’ll understand. He knows about my bad habits.

Yes, the new season of seed and nursery catalogues is upon us.

They are enough to drive even the mildest mannered gardener into throes of ecstasy. Purple carrots. Yellow peonies. Gorgeous evergreens, grasses, perennials, annuals. The almost perfect anodyne for the winter blahs.

They start just before Christmas, at least around our neck of the woods. I don’t get a huge number of catalogues, but I do receive quite a few. Some of them I seldom order from, but use them as a tool to learn more about new plants, new cultivars, growth habits and requirements, and other fun stuff.

After all, I don’t have unlimited funds for the garden, and sometimes there are a few discussions about what my friend Flora’s husband calls “groceries for the garden.” Our garden gets quite a few groceries every year, but I point out to my dearly beloved other half that they are research. After all, I need to know how plants will behave in our garden of clay, rock, wind and fog before I can recommend them to others. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, “if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere…”

Favourite catalogues include Veseys, which features seeds for cooler, short seasons such as ours; Gardenimport, which showcases beautiful things from around the world; Richters Herbs, who grow the most amazing lavenders among other delights, and Patrick Studio in Quebec.

When looking through plant and seed catalogues isn’t enough to give me a good fix for my garden desires, I turn to books of garden porn. You know the kind I mean, with the sumptuous photographs of plants, gardens, landscapes…But it can’t be all show and no tell. Oh, no. The books that grace our library of gardening information number in the several hundreds, and we have some wonderful books that are certainly eye candy for plant lovers—but they all provide a wealth of knowledge and share information with their readers.

One of my very favourites came out several years ago now. The Jewel Box Garden by Thomas Hobbs follows up on his bestselling Shocking Beauty from several years previous. Hobbs is described as a garden impresario, and while at times he’s a bit didactic, he’s also very funny and encouraging most of the time. Granted, he lives in Lotusland, British Columbia, land of gentle climates, and runs Southlands Nursery, so he’s privy to plenty of exotic plants that we Best coasters can only dream about, or plant in containers. And one of the things he quotes, ‘free your mind, the rest will follow’ is a good mantra to follow when dealing with a garden, or with any other facet of life. It might sound trite, but it’s not. Throwing caution to the winds and trying something because you think it might work well is great. If the plant shapes don’t work or the colours clash, big deal. Dig out one of the offending plants and find another spot. Works for me.

Another delectable book of garden-porn (I wish I knew who first coined that phrase—does anyone know!?) is Clay Perry’s Fantastic Flowers. Open this book, even on a frigid, blustery, storming January day (whatever those look like, I can’t remember…) and you can feel summer’s warm kiss upon your cheeks and hear the bees drunkenly flying from their pollen banquets. And if, like me, you keep a little box of lavender flowers near at hand, that you can run your fingers through and lift scent to your nose, you push back winter a little bit further.

Perry is a brilliant, luscious photographer, and his wife Maggie a lively writer who provides great gardening tips, snippets of history about the plants that Clay has captured in his lens.

This is like a book of Georgia Okeefe paintings, the photographs are so intimate and seductive. It could make an amateur photographer like me throw up her hands in despair—but instead, it inspires me to work even harder at my photography. Which is, of course as much a pleasure as is the writing.

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