Jan 202012
 

In January sitting with my stack of seed catalogs I often find myself making those strange little noises a cat makes when contemplating a bird. It’s disconcerting.

Through the wonders of modern marketing technique the seed catalog has developed  to resemble something akin to pornography, albeit soft core. I had a stack of catalogs in my carry on this past Tuesday and worried that TSA might do a more thorough search of my bag and reveal the purient titles: Peaceful Valley, Uprising, etc.

Gardening, after all, is about sex. The garden is a sensual place where the gardener may even act as a surrogate. (I fondly recall the hand pollination of my lovely Oregon Homestead squash blossom this past summer). The seed catalog is all about temptation, full of vivid descriptions attempting to stimulate, then seduce us into desiring then acquiring the seed.

Seed catalog writing is working its way up to becoming an art form:

“The…purple dragon is a showstopper. The 6-7″ tapered roots have a stunning deep reddish-purple skin and orange or sometimes concentrically orange and yellow colored flesh. But how do they taste? Our customers love them for their sweet, spicy, and full flavor for fresh noshing. These carrots respond well to attentive thinning…”

“While its light green color and predominantly ribbed fruit might worry some…the big, sprawling plants (of the Costata Romanesco) produce prolifically with an added bonus of very large male flowers for stuffing.”

You get the picture.

Absorbing the information in the seed catalogs is the secret pleasure of winter for the avid vegetable gardener. The names are alluring: Uncle Willie’s (a dry bean), Coueur de boeuf (a cabbage), General Lee (a cucumber), Devil’s tongue (a lettuce), Red cloud (a beet), Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry (“the closest we can come to a tropical flavor from our Northwest Garden). Who, I ask, could resist Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry?

I will have to admit there is something perverse about ordering seeds from Hawaii (where we are most winters and are right now).  Fingering the pages of the wish books from West Coast Seeds, Territorial, Abundant Life et al. one should be looking out the window at cold and snow rather than leaping whales. But that’s how it is. No seasons here. One gardens and harvests perpetually. Last evening I plucked four oranges off a tree, picked a basket of arugula and basil. Then with one of those long fruit pickers nicked a couple of huge avocados from the giant tree overhanging the veranda. Fifteen minutes later—salad. The tropics is sometimes too much of a good thing.

My seed list is growing longer. My resistance is low. The descriptions are addictive. This is going to cost a fortune. These people, these seed people don’t just stop at the seed. There are gardening toys and tools, bedding material, wraps and potions and books to tell you how to do it.

It’s disgusting. But I can’t pull my eyes away.

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  6 Responses to “Gardener’s Porn”

  1. I was successfully resisting until you got to the part about the avocadoes…talk about provocative!

  2. Well done! I have been successful at resisting the temptation of ordering from my catalogs this year with only a few surreptitious peaks now and again. I have to remind myself how I almost bankrupted my wallet last year and the huge pickle jar full of seed packets that I still have left over. Not to mention that I know the first time I walk into a nursery the seed racks will be calling to me with their siren song.

  3. I really like your imagery of the sexually suggestive aspects of gardening, and thinking about it in the winter.

    Here’s a companion poem by UW’s most famous poet. Re: the highly charged fecundity latent even in the root cellar. I’ve always liked the potent image of “even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.” Roethke’s father was a professional nurseryman.

    Root Cellar by Theodore Roethke

    Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
    Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
    Shoots dangled and drooped,
    Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
    Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
    And what a congress of stinks!
    Roots ripe as old bait,
    Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
    Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
    Nothing would give up life:
    Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

  4. lol… Esp. the first paragraph.

  5. Can’t wait to read Ed’s take on all this.

  6. Sure Mike, tell me you’ve never lined up all the Butternut Squash in your garden, and pretended you were Bert Parks in Atlantic City……”Here she comes….Miss”….oh nevermind.

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