WHAT SHOULD I PLANT THIS YEAR?

Traditionally, January is the time when gardeners snuggle up next to the fire with all the seed catalogs that fill the mailbox, and spend many delicious hours dreaming about the new plants they want to try come spring.

Nowadays, those catalogs are fewer and fewer, as many mail-order nurseries have opted for the more cost-effective electronic versions. Snuggling next to the fire with your laptop is not quite the same.

I have developed another January ritual for planning my garden. I jot notes to myself, in three categories: [1] things I definitely want to grow, [2] known varieties, and then [3] new things I’d like to try, new temptations I found while cruising through on-line catalogs. It’s not a rigid, hard-core list; more like doodles with words.

Wherever possible, I start my container garden with baby plants from the garden center, rather than seeds. Most seed packets have enough seeds to fill a huge garden, way more than a container can accommodate. Something about not using all those seeds bothers me. Besides, it’s just easier to use transplants, where someone else has already done the hard work of getting those baby plants started. But inevitably, each year brings new temptations – new varieties that would be fun to try. And I know the chances of finding those in my local nursery are slim. So for them, seeds it is. And then there are things you simply have to start from seeds; I want some of them too.

So my doodles look this: What would I want in my spring garden? Salad greens, for sure. But I know I can find mesclun blends and several kinds of looseleaf lettuce in the garden center, so I’ll just plan to pick up a few sixpacks in March. But I can’t do without arugula, and can’t always find it at the nursery, so let’s get some seeds. And radishes; love the pop of color they add to salads. But radishes are one of those plants that you have to grow from seeds. And they’re fast growers, so you can keep adding a few seeds all through the season. And then there’s beets, cool-season plants that grow best from seeds. I love them grated raw in salads and cole slaw, and I also love them steamed. The variety called Chioggia, with concentric pink circles inside, always looks gorgeous when sliced into rounds. But wait — is there a new cultivar this year? Turns out, there is: Avalanche, with white flesh. White! Who knew. Gotta try that.

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