Picks and Pans Main: Etc.
Every gardener knows that the sure sign of spring is not the first robin but rather the arrival in the mail of the first seed packets, ripe with promises of luscious tomatoes, succulent corn and sore backs. With inflation-conscious Americans hoeing their own rows of vegetables, it should be a bumper year for the purveyors of seed catalogues. The three giants of the field—Burpee, Park and Harris—are offering their usual cornucopia. This year, for instance, Burpee (300 Park Ave., Warminster, Pa. 18974) hopes to repeat its 1979 triumph, the revolutionary sugar snap pea, with a bush-style cucumber that grows in small spaces.
But what about those gardeners with more unusual, or even Brobdingnagian, cravings? Fortunately, there are enough specialty seed catalogues to satisfy even the most arcane tastes. Want a 15-pound radish? A 135-pound jumbo pink banana squash? Grace's Gardens (39 Ave. C, Bayonne, N.J. 07002) offers those monsters—not to mention square tomatoes, spaghetti squash and grow-your-own bathroom sponges—in its self-styled World's Most Unusual Seed Catalog. Grace also has a complete listing of Italian and Chinese vegetables for backyard ethnic gourmets.
Gurney Seed & Nursery of Yankton, S.Dak. (no street address needed—Tom Brokaw's hometown post office gives this company its own zip code, 57079) prints a luridly illustrated catalogue complete with red peanuts, calico popcorn, black popcorn and "positively the longest cucumber we have ever seen." Lakeland Nurseries (Hanover, Pa. 17331) uses a model in evening attire to pitch its Black Satin blackberries and promises jumbo red raspberries "round as quarters!" Lakeland also boasts pumpkins of 100 pounds, white cucumbers and yard-long beans ("Only four beans serve an average family!!").
Some of the specialty catalogues maintain their sobriety. The firm of J. A. Demonchaux, situated not in Toulouse but Topeka (827 North Kansas, zip 66608), has a fine selection of gourmet French greens and herbs (e.g., sorrel, fennel, tarragon, anise, coriander, lovage, wormwood). The equally modest Putney Nursery (Putney, Vt. 05346) sells culinary and aromatic herbs that adapt particularly well to cool climates. Stark Bro's (Louisiana, Mo. 63353) has apple trees with fruit so ample that a single apple, it claims, will bake into a pie. The White Flower Farm (Litchfield, Conn. 06759) specializes in black pepper, 55 varieties of day lilies and fraises des bois, the delicate European wild strawberries. What all these seed catalogues offer is the chance for anyone to find out if the dreams that nourish a gardener through the winter can be converted into something more substantial than food for thought.