I’d really like to have a nice greenhouse, or a handmade iron fence around the front yard, or a swimming pool. But Santa’s taking the collapse of Wall Street hard, so none of that stuff arrived this year.
Fortunately, if you are a vegetable gardener, an insane kind of Christmas morning excitement is available for a mere $2.35 a seed packet.
A broccoli with leaves that resemble an artichoke’s? Prehistoric-looking gourds reported to be delicious in curries? Seeds for a caper bush that you can apparently grow in a pot and bring in the house in winter? I don’t know that a $10,000 greenhouse would really make me any happier.
This year, I discovered the joys of ordering seed from foreign sources. Seeds From Italy imports its merchandise from a Bergamo-based seed company named Franchi Sementi. Stumbling across this site was very exciting, since I’ve been searching for an Italian variety of chard for fifteen years as if it were the holy grail. This particular chard seed was brought by a friend from Italy. It made beautiful, big, fountain-shaped plants with a thin white rib. You could keep cutting the leaves and they would keep growing back. It never went to seed in the heat of summer. It stood a long time in the frost of fall. It was delicious any way you cooked it. After about three years, the packet was bare–and none of the varieties offered in American seed catalogs was ever as good. Now, I’ve ordered two promising varieties from Seeds Of Italy and will report back next summer for the chard-obsessed.
Possibly even more exciting, given my Madhur Jaffrey-inspired conviction that India has one of the world’s great cuisines, is Seeds Of India. The bare-bones site doesn’t explain whether the seeds are domestic or imported. But they do have loads of unfamiliar vegetables, particularly in my beloved cucurbit family. A few years ago, I had a rather inspiring conversation with a woman from Bangladesh who gardens in the famous community garden in the Fenway in Boston. She was telling me what she grew, and I kept having to say, "Pardon me?" All vegetables I had never heard of–snake gourd, hairy melon, squashes whose leaves and shoots could be chopped into curries early in the season. She told me it was not easy to find seeds. She often had to beg friends traveling to her part of the world to bring them back for her. In turn, her Boston neighbors would beg her to share these exotic vegetables. Thanks to Seeds Of India, I look forward to next August, when my neighbors will be begging me to share.
And if some of this Italian or Indian seed takes one good look at my boggy Zone 4 vegetable garden and says, "No thanks. I’m not growing here"? Well, so little will have been ventured on my part. And whatever does thrive will more than make up for what fails. That’s the beauty of the vegetable garden.
In many other areas of life, experimentation is not so cost-free. Moving your firm into new kinds of derivatives contracts sounds great, until you wipe out 20 years of profits in a single year. Cheating on your spouse is fraught with peril, or so I’ve learned from literature. New stuffing recipes often prove problematic. But deciding to plant weird gourds? I say, this is one area of life where everybody ought to just go crazy.