It’s just not the same, not having subzero temperatures and foot-deep snowfalls to make you want to sit in the kitchen and look out dreamily on all that frigid whiteness while garden catalogs and notes and plans, marked here and there with brown rings and splattered spots from your tea mug, lie splayed out before you. Perhaps it just doesn’t seem that fall is far enough behind us, that spring is far enough ahead, to make it feel like garden planning season. Perhaps it’s the easy visibility of the omnipresent weeds that were still standing last fall when we chucked it all in for the season, reminding us that we have work to do before any planting can commence this spring.
But the catalogs arrive all the same. Over the years I have managed to get my name onto a lot of catalog mailing lists, and most of the catalogs that get crammed into my mail slot go right into the recycling. I keep any local ones, imagining that I will somehow manage a visit this spring to pick out some healthy, locally adapted specimens (I seldom get to more than one of these regional nurseries each year), and four of the nonlocal ones that I like for different reasons.
Since there’s really no hurry at this point, I will tell you about each of these over the next several days. Let’s begin with Nichols Garden Nursery (www.nicholsgardennursery.com), based in Albany, Oregon. It’s a sensible catalog with newsprint pages displaying a wide variety of seeds, plants, bulbs, accessories, cooking and homebrew supplies, and more.
Started just over 50 years ago by N.P. Nichols, the operation is now run by his daughter, Rose Marie Nichols McGee, and her husband, Keane McGee. A photo of the couple graces the inside front cover, along with a friendly introduction to the catalog, which highlights some of the new offerings this year. Their emphasis on edible plants is made clear by Rose’s comment that when she gives a talk, she often begins by saying, “This will be a talk for gardeners who eat.” But they also embrace N.P. Nichols’s original mission: To bring people closer to nature through gardening.
Nichols is among those nurseries that have taken The Safe Seed Pledge, an initiative of the Council for Responsible Genetics (www.gene-watch.org), which states in part that they will not “knowingly buy or sell transgenic or genetically engineered seeds or plants.” They also offer organic seeds and plants as much as they can (not all varieties are available as organic seed).
I first requested a Nichols catalog because of their Ecology Lawn Mix, an assortment of three different grass-and-forb mixes for lawns, formulated for different climate zones. The Dryland Ecology Lawn Mix was tested at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for a three-year period and found to thrive with little input. It includes perennial rye and fine fescue grasses, along with clover, yarrow and some other small-flowered ground covers.
Their herb seed collection is quite extensive, including 16 different basils, they offer a page full of quirky ornamental gourds, and 15 different garlic (bulbs). It appears that all the vegetables are represented in diverse abundance. Plus, tucked in a corner between radishes and spinach, are seeds for growing the little ornamental, but also edible, alpine strawberries, which are often hard to find. I wrote about alpine strawberries a few years ago; for those who are interested I’ll “reprint” it on the garden column page of this site (now called What Grows Here).
In all, Nichols offers seeds and plants that are compatible with sustainable gardening practices, and an opportunity for ecology-minded gardeners to get good value while supporting a responsible business.