In our current all-digital age, I am surprised by the number of seed catalogs I am finding in my mailbox. What a delight and, for me, so much fun to thumb through the pages, circling the must-haves and turning down the page corners for those still under thoughtful consideration. 

The seduction of the dreams, however, must be tempered with some hard facts. Here in the Northwest, we do not have significant amounts of humidity compared to other parts of the country, for example. So when the description reads, “Heat and humidity just spur it to grow more,” I need to pull my eyes away from the ever-so-charming picture and turn the page! There are so many spectacular offerings that it makes no sense to set oneself up for keen disappointments, right? 

Gardeners simply cannot be that rational: We all love the challenge of the impossible.

Gardening for success

However, if you are encouraging young folk to get their hands dirty and work with you in the garden, then you want to have many grand successes. Over the years, as I have tried other catalog offerings, most of my grand successes have reliably come from the Territorial Seed Co. (

It is based in Cottage Grove, Ore., and for 40 years, it has been testing its products to make sure they are the best for the Northwest. Its pledge: “We do not buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. We wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and, ultimately, people and communities.” 

I have been working with its products for many years and have not experienced any failures. I am in awe of its extensive and ongoing work with ensuring that its seed offerings are not only enhancing our region but can be viably important for responsible agriculture and horticulture in many regions.

One year, however, I brazenly branched out and ordered all my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (, which is based in Mansfield, Mo. I think its dedication toward safeguarding the older seed varieties is of utmost importance these days. The genetic diversity that it is preserving will help save our food supply through all the challenges of industrial agriculture and climate change.

Regrettably, I had some disappointments, for a number of its products simply do not thrive here in the maritime Northwest region. Yet, I still want to support its work. So, now, I choose more carefully when ordering, and needless to say, the success rate has flourished, and I enjoy my active participation in the serious global need for genetic diversity. 

A plethora of offerings

There are many, many seed companies that are actively engaged in saving heirloom seeds. Do your research and choose from their offerings. I am simply writing right now about the catalogs that have arrived in my mailbox, as opposed to writing about what I have found in searching the Internet.

There are so many seductions to be found inside these catalogs. They remind me of all the bulb catalogs dropped into my mailbox last summer and early fall. 

I did manage to get all of my bulb orders planted before the end of the year. That was a new phenomenon! However, I am afraid that it has made me more audacious about my seed orders. I see trouble ahead….

The Cook’s Garden catalog (, from Warminster, Penn., holds out such promise. However, I must adhere to my own advice: Are their offerings viable for our climate? Well, I quietly argue, surely any member of the pea family will be prolific in our mild maritime climate. 

I really, really, really want to try its new offering, called ‘Masterpiece.’ Its wonderful prose promises me that that the pea greens will be available for harvest 24 days after planting. These pea greens offer the sweet taste of tender peas so early in the season. How can you not pass up that tempting and mouth-watering idea?

What fun to dream about our productive gardens as the winds howl and the rain pounds on our windows. As we watch our trees twist and turn during the storms and wonder whether our shrubs will withstand the cold, snow and other frosty seasonal offerings, I love to read my Forest Farm catalog (, which specializes in “ornamental and useful plants from around the world.” 

This is a family-owned operation that is also celebrating its 40th year. Its base of operation is in Williams, Ore. 

The garden’s power

Read, investigate, dream and turn the corners down on the pages of interest. Our gardens are productive, but, also, we need to create within them the places to dream. Whether a tree or shrub produces a scent that reminds us of a lost love affair or creates a habitat that takes us back to our roots, it is important to fill our garden spaces with our hopes and yearnings.

In the introduction to her book, “In the Eye of the Garden,” Mirabel Osler summarizes so eloquently the power of the garden. One of her remarkable sentences: “The mystical quality that a garden throws off is as powerful as the scent of flowers.” 

And another: “Our responses to the many forces of a garden are as varied and personal as the plants which grow in them.” 

MADELEINE WILDE is a longtime Queen Anne resident. To comment on this column, write to