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Dishin' the dirt from the garden and beyond

Planting souvenir seeds

I got into heirloom plants because of the wide variety of yummy tomatoes available,and now I'm hooked, and not just on tomatoes Heirloom plants and seeds used to be hard to find, but now the catalogs are awash with options, and many local garden centers and farmers market growers are offering a wider variety. (I think it probably counts as ironic that so many heirloom seedlings are marked NEW in catalogs, just like the latest, greatest hybrids.)

This year I've got a stash of heirloom seeds to try, a souvenir of a fall trip to Seed Savers Exchange, a mecca for heirloom devotees near Decorah, Iowa. It's worth the trip just for the gorgeous drive through the Driftless region or the trails on the farm. But the highlight is the gardens that show you all sorts of oddities, rarities and possibilities. Many of the seeds of the plants marked out in the garden are available in their sales room or in their catalog (you can order a catalog or find the digital version at seedsavers.org).

Seed Savers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds, and is one of the largest seed banks of its kind in North America. And behind each seed variety is a story. The labels tell the source of the seeds, many of which otherwise would be lost over time as many gardeners defaulted to hybrid options widely available rather than saving seeds.

The names often hint at their background: Nebraska Bride tomatoes, for instance. Here's Seed Saver's history of the Wapsipinicon tomato: "Originated with Elbert S. Carman in 1890 under the name White Peach. This strain came from Dennis Schlicht and is named after the Wapsipinicon River in northeast Iowa.." Now that's knowing where your food comes from.

Last year I also saved some seeds from a farmers market melon billed as heirloom.We'll see how that turns out. (Best not to try this with hybrid seeds unless you're just interested in experimenting, since seeds from hybrids don't yield a predictable result.)

Are you an heirloom fan or do you prefer hybrids bred for disease resistance and other laudable characteristics? (I grow a bit of both.) What kinds have you tried and which ones do you recommend? Remember, every time you save a seed, you save a story.

Spring beauty doesn't last in Minnesota

Ephemerals. That's the name we give our short-lived spring beauties -- trillium blood root, meadow rue. 

But if you think about it, everything about spring in Minnesota is ephemeral. Who hasn't seen the cups of sunshiny daffodils filled with snow? Or watched a freak hail storm rip the smiling faces from a pot of pansies. And all it takes is a gust of wind to strip bare an apple tree that had been covered in a show of petals.

Just like our dwarf weeping crab. 

 

I'd been watching it everyday. Watching the buds form and swell. Watching the first precious petals unfurl. It had just reached its peak -- a cascade of delicate pink and white blossoms -- last Sunday. It was so lovely to look at that I stopped what I was doing and went to sit under it, in my own private version of a blossom festival.

Suddenly, the sun disappeared. The wind picked up. The temperature dropped. I raced to grab three things: my phone, a lopper and a ladder.

I snapped as many photos as I could of the tree before the branches started to wave wildly. Then, I set up the ladder, climbed to the top rung and leaned over to take off a large branch.That's when my husband came out to tell me about the storm warnings. When he saw me, he dryly suggested this was perhaps not the best time to prune.

But I wasn't pruning. I was preserving.

I cut the branch and ran inside with it before the storm hit.

Sometimes I wonder why we try to grow things here. There are just so many things that can go wrong, starting with the weather. Other times, my garden makes me realize how very ephemeral all things really are. And that beauty -- even short-lived beauty -- is worth the work, worth the wait. 

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