garden dreaming in deep winter

Over the last weekend in January, I spent some quality time in mine, doing winter-garden things like clearing blackberries, mulching paths, trimming branches of my olive tree, marveling at the green that’s surviving the season and the new life starting to think about emerging.

Yes, winter in western Oregon is unusual in that it’s mostly warm enough to do these things. But wherever you are, it’s always gardening season in one way or another.

Regardless of the weather, it’s garden planning season. And that means imagining and dreaming and trying on lots of different ideas for how your garden (or window planters, whatever) could be in the coming season.

One of my favorite winter-garden activities is poring over seed and plant catalogs. They come to bed with me — and often keep me awake with all the imagining and dreaming.

What makes a seed or plant company great? I look for a few things: Diverse offerings, open-pollinated options, excellent ethics, and local/organic where possible. (Fedco may be based in Maine, but many of its seeds are actually grown in Oregon. We’re a big seed-growing state!)

The best seed and plant catalogs also are an education — in gardening and in plant history.

Some of my favorites:

Seed Savers Exchange:

These folks are largely responsible for the modern revival of heirloom seeds, preserving and encouraging diversity in our garden crops. From purple dragon carrot to German pink tomatoes, the listings here are inspirational.

Strictly Medicinal Seeds:

Based in Southern Oregon, this is one of the most fantastic collections out there. Don’t be fooled by the name — they carry veggie seeds (and plants) as well as medicinals.

Fedco Seeds:

I learned about Fedco while living on a land trust in rural Maine. We all got together and pooled our order from this great company, connected to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. A couple of things that make them unique are a variety of packet sizes to accommodate backyard gardeners to larger growers, and really detailed information about the seeds’ sources. Fedco also offers tubers and trees (I got my pear there.)

Native Seeds/SEARCH:

This company, based in Tucson, Ariz., collects and preserves endangered traditional seeds from the Southwest. They do absolutely fabulous work supporting indigenous communities and farmers. At this writing they’ve been overwhelmed with seed requests and have paused orders. You can still support them (and yourself) by purchasing their mole mixes, unusual chilis, mesquite meal, cacao mixes and more.

Territorial Seeds:

Founded by the author of my first real gardening book, Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, I fell off them for a while because they got kind of big and slick. But honestly, they are big for a reason. And the new owners have completely divested their inventory from Monsanto, which both pushes genetically engineered seeds and controls nearly half of all available seeds. Plus, they offer drool-worthy options like Dakota black popcorn and sunshine pole beans.

One Green World, Burnt Ridge, Raintree Nursery:

These are great resources for longer-term dreams. If you’ve got space and time, each offers usual and unusual options for trees and fruiting shrubs. Want to try a few pawpaw varieties? (You do.) Curious about hardy kiwis? Check these choices out.

This list is by no means exhaustive. It’s meant to be a starting place, to whet your palate and get you inspired. Look for local options at farmer’s markets, coops, or your favorite small nurseries.

Do you have seed or mail-order-plant companies you love? Please let me know! I’m always looking for new ideas and will compile a list for my website.

Wherever you are and whatever the current weather is, I wish you happy garden dreams. Even if you don’t have one.


—Dr. Orna


P.S. Since I sent this out, readers have added some recommendations. I’ll post additions as they come in.

  • Uprising Seeds, based in Bellingham, Wash. offers 100-percent certified organic seed.
  • MIGardener is offers heirloom seeds for folks in the upper Midwest and Canada.