Seeds—so seductive, so easy to resist

This basement setup has been in operation for decades.

Now is the time that some of my more intrepid friends are beginning their seed programs. I envy them, to some degree, as I look out the window at a still-white landscape, with a new storm on the way. But I won’t be emulating them.

Another friend starts hers on windowsills at first.

For me, seeds are so front-loaded. For me, they’re beautiful packages filled with broken promises. I browse the racks every year, lost in admiration of the imagery and designs, particularly those from Botanical Interest, Renee’s, and Baker’s Creek. And the catalogs! They’re much more sumptuously illustrated than any plant or bulb catalog. (Again, Baker’s Creek.) The idea must be that consumers need all the extra visual stimulation. And the names! The descriptions! In a perfect world, I would totally grow the Black Nebula carrot (a stunning dark purple drink when juiced, and when a squeeze of lemon is added, turns bright pink), Glass Gem corn (on the cob they resemble strands of glass beads), and the Columbine Rocky Mountain Blue (dazzling pale violet and white, long-lasting blossoms; delicate, beautiful, blue-green foliage). In the world we have, I would undoubtedly fail.

Baker’s Gem Glass corn

Why? I lack the technical expertise to set up a growing system, the patience to deal with the ongoing trouble-shooting, and—most important—the unobstructed sunny garden space needed for whatever seedlings survive the germination and early growing process.

Baker’s Black Nebula carrot

This is not a big problem—in fact I only think about it during these quiet, late winter days, too early for plants or bulbs. I can take comfort in the fact that two good friends are growing seeds and have offered me some of their no-doubt successful results. A neighbor maintains a basement greenhouse that produces hundreds of seedlings, mainly annuals; another friend has a smaller operation, but has chosen some really interesting heirloom varieties from Select Seeds. Good luck to them and all the seed speculators out there!

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I too love those seed catalogs and start some of my annuals and vegetables from seeds. I learned from reading and trial and error. Yes there are failures and many problems can arise. I say I won’t do it every year but by the time Thanksgiving comes around again I get excited. Take the plunge and join us. Someone else can put the seed shelf together for you and your friends will be a wealth of information. If not, you can buy from a vast selection of plants in nurseries ready for planting, soon. Have a beautiful gardening season.

  2. Too much savings! Too many good options! My frugal little heart won’t let me give it up. However, this year I am traveling in two , two week stints that I knew would cause major problems. I decided to leave it this year and just plant directly or use purchased seedlings.

  3. Oh but so much fun! There’s nothing like seeing those little bits of green pop up when there’s nothing but grey and white outside. It has taken some investment to set up lights and shelving, and a little greenhouse to transition things outside, but at some point I expect it will save me money. Maybe next year I will get a soil blocking system.

  4. Last year, because I was traveling, I relied on local nurseries for transplants. It had not occurred to me how likely it would be that the seedlings would be mislabeled, but it was very disheartening. For example, as a transplant, any pepper looks much like another, but when bell peppers turn out to be jalapeños, it’s not helpful. Beefsteak tomatoes were cherry tomatoes, etc. Back to growing my own.

  5. After failing terribly with indoor seed starting last year, I almost gave up. But those beautiful illustrations from seed companies had me buying packets of them. So, I read, watched videos, and bought all sorts of equipment to do it right. After almost a month, my seedlings don’t look much better than they did without any equipment! I’ll keep it up and give it a couple more years to learn, but I’m not feeling it yet!

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