Sunday, December 27, 2015

Annual Rituals Revived

Weather: A little rain last Tuesday, very little snow blew in last night after dark.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, anthemis, coreopsis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits.

Weekly update: My annual New Year’s ritual of paging through nursery catalogs has been emptied of its pleasures by the reduction of companies since 2008, and the coincidental drop in the number of new plants as innovators have retired and not been replaced. The last several year’s I only looked for what I knew was there.

Imagine my delight when I got a catalog filled with surprises. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in unusual vegetables. It’s one of several who have more kinds of tomatoes or corn than you could ever grow or taste.

Most seed savers are small operations and their catalogs are usually simple lists, often printed on newsprint. The brotherhood of connoisseurs, no doubt, appreciates the simple listings presented on natural materials that can be recycled in a compost heap.

Jere Gettle probably wasn’t influenced by marketing specialists who recommend glossy, photo-filled catalogs to appeal to affluent hobbyists, though that is what he’s produced. One hopes that, unlike so many such campaigns, the costs aren’t greater than the proceeds.

Like almost any nursery catalog, it features photographs of young children holding large vegetables. It also has the usual pictures of employees holding prize-sized specimens or working in the fields. And, like some, it has a few historic reproductions of old photographs and seed packet art.

What sets their catalog apart are the four photographers. Unlike most, Gettle didn’t use stock images provided by seed suppliers. From a technical point the images are clear and appear to have accurate color. Anyone who has tried to photograph a plant, a flower or produce knows the level of skill involved.

More important is the photographer’s eye - the ability to see what’s important. They don’t just show melons, they show them with slices cut out so you can see what they look like before the insides are scraped. You wonder about the beans, and they show the flowers with the pods. In a few cases, they capture the beans in their pods.

There are some that would be called art shots like three brown netted cucumbers in a pyramid or Tennessee dancing gourds arranged like dancers. The small spoon gourds are nested while the Pennsylvania Dutch crookneck squashes are intertwined.

Two Chimayo red peppers face each other with a green one in back, while an a barefoot girl holds a ristra of maroon Estaceno chile peppers grown by Jeff Martínez. There’s also a picture of three dark ears of Po’suwaegeh blue corn from Pojoaque still attached to their dried tan husks.

More important are the pages filled with images that capture the essences of plants that you notice, like the sheen on tomatoes, the pattern of massed asparagus heads, and the starburst pattern of artichokes.

They have a small section of flower seeds, with a closeup of a sunflower head without the petals and an ever closer view of a cockscomb. Rose pink hollyhock flowers are caught along a stalk. Lupine florets fall at angles.

I have no idea if their seeds are any good. The rabbits, the birds, and the ants guarantee edible seeds never survive. But the lure of the pictures makes me willing to take some risks.

Notes: Baker Creek’s web site - - has some of the same pictures, but they aren’t as magnificent as they are on the glossy, printed page.

Photographs: All taken early this morning, 27 December 2015, after a forecast storm only blew in some snow.
1. All the snow landed on the south edges of plants or shrubs.

2. A broken hose has been laying in the drive for months. I finally removed it this week. I didn’t realize it had dug small trenches in the gravel that trapped the snow.

3. What’s interesting is that the recessed imprints left the same effects as the raised hoses would have.

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