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Intrepid Urban Farmer: Seed catalogues! The (name) game begins — Gladiator Parsnips? Sugar buns?

By Ginger Dawson
Special to NKyTribune

The planning commences! Most of the seed catalogues have arrived and are countering the gray boredom of being inside. This is the first spark of what Garden 2019 will ultimately become.  

I always look forward to these catalogues, even if Doug, the mailman, does not. Actually, he’s a pretty good sport. He knows what will happen as a result of his efforts in delivering this seeming bale of paper to my door, and knows that, soon after, the delivery of seed orders will commence. He is an indispensable first step in this project.

Doug the mailman.

I like to think that he finds it gratifying to play a small part in this annual obsession of mine. I also hear that the Roebling Suspension Bridge is for sale — just to qualify.

Mail carriers certainly are an interesting bunch. I see them all over, in the midsts of their routes, and I am struck by their variety.

There is Mike, the old-school veteran, who is always neatly attired in a complete uniform, shorts or long pants according to the season; good sturdy shoes and a hat with ear flaps for winter. There is solidness and dependability in his very appearance. He is the epitome of “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”  

Norman Rockwell would have liked Mike.

Then, there are the few slacker mail carriers. You can barely tell if they are mailmen or not. Long, sloppy shorts, regulation shirt untucked and unbuttoned; mailbag low slung and flopped wide open. If they didn’t have that mailbag, I’d have no idea why they were walking from house to house across yards, skirting fences and bushes, in an effort to save a few steps.

The first time I witnessed this, it was a little crushing. It seemed as if the world of Jerry Springer had invaded the United States Postal Service. But, I am an adaptable sort, so I am used to this now.

My mailman Doug, is somewhere in between these two extremes. That is to say, he is a good, comfortable medium.

This year, so far, he has delivered twenty-three catalogues to me. It’s time to start going through them. 

Like the variety in the styles of mailmen, there is a variety in the styles of catalogues and seed names.

A selection of this year’s offerings.

Some of the catalogues have tasteful illustrations and brief histories of the plants and a little information about raising them. These are for novice gardeners who are pursuing a lifestyle (whatever that means) of gracious living specified in Martha Stewart Living, and the like. The illustrations are skillful and idealized, and the texts have all of the right words, like “cuisine,” “complex,” “aromatic”….

Some catalogues have an amazing amount of info with charts, detailed growing information and plant specifics. These catalogues feature photos only. These are for market growers and are an amazing resource for the more experienced gardener. I save these for reference. You can never have enough.

And some catalogues are a huge assortment of all manner of seed, photographed in slightly lurid, pumped-up colors, with interesting names and NO information whatsoever. These are the Forrest Gump catalogues. “You just never know what you’re going to get.”

I love the names of some of the varieties in these!  

For the history lover:  

Martha Washington Asparagus — Not George; Martha!

Tom Thumb Butterhead Lettuce — It’s got to be dwarf, er, I mean little.

Socrates Cucumbers — If you raise these, you may be a little more philosophical about Cucumber Beetles, but I doubt it.

General Lee Cucumbers — Appealing depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line your loyalties lie.

Abraham Lincoln has at least two named for him: Buckbee’s Abraham Lincoln Tomato and Lincoln Peas.  Once again; appealing depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line your loyalties lie.

Cincinnati Market Radishes — According to the alleged pronouncement of Mark Twain, these will be late. I’ll pass.

A chart from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This is a must-have catalogue.

Varieties with aggressive, martial-sounding names:

Gladiator Parsnips!  

Defiant Tomatoes!  

Warrior Tomatoes!  

Red Samurai Carrots!  

Desperado Hybrid Peppers!

I guess these are appropriate names in the ongoing battle to combat blights and insects, etc…But I wonder how they appeal to people who buy safety razors?

Sexist sweet corn varieties:



And finally — SUGAR BUNS. These sweet corn farmers must be lonely.

Ill selected names from nature:

Bull’s Blood Beets — Ew.

Giant Ox Heart Tomatoes and Carrots, too! — This is an appealing visual?!

Rattlesnake Pole Beans — Who would want to risk picking those?!  Not me.

Cobra Hybrid Tomato — Ditto.

Amish Deer Tongue Leaf Lettuce — No thank-you.

Unfortunate pumpkin names:

Big Doris Pumpkin — I bet this was a flattering, important moment in Doris’s life.

Mrs. Wrinkles Pumpkin — At least she wasn’t called out by name.

Knucklehead Pumpkin — Named after the idiot that named the two above.

Weirdo, one-off names:

Mortgage Lifter Tomato — Good luck with that.

Lazy Housewife Pole Beans — I’m going to culturally appropriate these. 

Drunken Woman Fuzzy-Headed Butterhead Lettuce — I am not kidding.  It is hard to fathom what circumstances led to this.

It takes a lot of time to go through all of these catalogues, make selections, and not get side-tracked by all of these crazy names.  
I’m just glad I don’t have a choice of mailman. That was the luck of the draw.


Ginger Dawson has resided in Covington, Kentucky since 1988. Raised on a farm in South Central Ohio, she has enjoyed a very eclectic and enriching life. She loves her Italianate Victorian Townhouse and particularly the garden behind it. See her new website at intrepidurbanfarmer.com

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