POUND RIDGE, N.Y. (AP) -- Early winter brings gardeners promises we don't fully believe, but like to dream about anyway. It's seed catalog time.
Nowadays, it's not just seeds, but transplants, tools, fluorescent light stands, fertilizers, the wherewithal for the ideal garden. And most of us are comfortable with the hype as we fantasize.
Take this online ad for a plum tomato from Burpee, the venerable seedhouse: ''Big Mama is so huge, it sets a new standard for home-grown paste tomatoes ... up to five inches long and three inches across ... she will save you time in peeling and coring ... easily yields thick, creamy sauces.''
A 30-seed packet comes at $3.95 from Burpee, Warminster, Pa., Tel. 800-888-1447; www.burpee.com. Seems worth a try for people making their own pasta sauce, but over the years has anybody not noticed how seed quantity from many providers gets smaller and prices get larger?
Burpee and other catalogs are featuring an ever greater number of offerings. Even the Seed Savers Exchange catalog contains 120 new vegetables, flowers and herbs, with an increasing count of seeds labeled ''certified organic.''
The Exchange, at Decorah, Iowa, Tel. 563-382-5990, www.seedsavers.org, is also offering heirloom tomatoes, like Brandywine, and pepper transplants at $2.25 apiece, plus shipping.
The option of buying singles instead of six-plant minimums is a plus for gardeners liking to grow different varieties in limited space.
Shepherd's Garden Seeds combines with White Flower Farm in a catalog that features ''more than 100 new items'' among seeds, fruits, tools and herbs. It also offers a suggestion to merge vegetable and flower gardens to save time and space.
''Whether you mix morning glories or sweet peas with your tomatoes on the trellis, surround your pea bush with broad sweeps of nasturtiums, or nurture leeks between rows of annual flowers, you will be making good use of your time and your territory,'' says writer Amos Pettingill.
Among novel items featured by Shepherd's, Torrington, Conn., Tel. 860-482-3638, www.shepherdseeds.com, is a mulch cloth, black on the bottom and white on top, that is said to triple the amount of light plants receive. It comes at $15 for a 4-by-30-foot sheet.
Every catalog features ''new'' stuff, of course, and ''big'' is always high on the list.
Park's, for instance, is offering what it calls ''the biggest blooms available in marigolds,'' gold, orange or yellow. The blooms are described as up to four inches across on plants that are 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide, with the promise of ''withstanding all the bad weather of the summer.'' A 25-seed packet is priced at $2.50 from Park Seed, Greenwood, S.C., Tel. 800-845-3369, www.parkseed.com.
If you're into ''organic'' and also don't want the fuss of ordering seeds separately, The Cook's Garden, Londonderry, Vt., Tel. 800-457-9703, www.cooksgarden.com, offers a 17-item kitchen garden collection certified to have been grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
At $28.95, the collection includes packets of basil, bush bean, beet, carrot, chard, cucumber, dill, eggplant, cilantro herb, two lettuces, parsley, radish, spinach, tomato, winter squash and zucchini.
The National Garden Bureau, incidentally, has named 2002 as ''the Year of the Spinach and Vinca,'' so, if you like that kind of thing, you might want to cultivate some or more of these two plants. Kits are available to schools with horticultural information about them.
The bureau, based at Downers Grove, Ill., Tel. 630-963-0770, www.ngb.org, is a nonprofit organization supported by seed companies for its educational programs.
Next year will be dedicated to the bean and the poppy. Earlier, the bureau announced All-America Selections for 2002 and most catalogs are carrying the 13 flowers and vegetables with the label of AAS winners.
Two petunias, Lavender Wave and Tidal Wave Silver, and two pumpkins, Orange Smoothie and Sorcerer, made the list. Other winners were a cleome, Sparkler Blush; a rudbeckia, Cherokee Sunset; a geranium, Black Magic Rose; a pansy, Ultima Morpho; a vinca, Jaio Scarlet Eye; a winter squash, Cornell's Bush Delicata; an ornamental pepper, Chilli Chili; a basil, Magical Michael; and a cucumber, Diva. The awards are based on nationwide field trials.
EDITOR'S NOTE: George Bria retired from the AP in 1981 after 40 years that included coverage of World War II from Italy.
End advance for Thursday, Jan. 24, and thereafter
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