Portland Nursery is maybe the preeminent plant nursery in a city full of them. Many of the smaller ones specialize in one niche or another. Native plants. Xeric plants. Plants that will withstand wildfire or fend off deer. Plants that laugh at burning deer.
Portland Nursery specializes in having everything. If you browse you’re liable to find something you weren’t aware you couldn’t live without, which is how I got my original Echium “Mr. Happy” that promised a proud ten-foot tall pink flower erection that spews seeds everywhere, as long as you hummed to it and wiped its butt for the whole first winter. Sold!
So Portland Nursery is famous for having choices. I keep forgetting I don’t like choices. I spent a half hour trying to settle on two blueberry plants among fifty varieties. The tags indicated season and size, and otherwise trumpeted some version of “excellent blueberry flavor.” I suppose I didn’t expect a tag to say “Shitty little berries that taste like cardboard” but this was looking to be a crapshoot. I studied the list and descriptions and finally settled on “Patriot” which, as it happened, was the only one missing from the tables. So now I know Patriot is the one for me, only maybe not this year.
Anyway, it was exhausting. I thought I’d settle down by buying a simple six-pack of broccoli seedlings. “Where’s the broccoli?” I asked a nice young man with a hose. “Right over there,” he said, sweeping his arm from side to side in what struck me as an overly voluptuous manner. I headed for the indicated rack.
Choices! I hate choices. I was anticipating a six-pack with a tag that said BROCCOLI or even YOUR BASIC BROCCOLI but no. They had Sun King. Romanesco. Green Magic. Waltham 29. DiCicco. Purple Sprouting. Destiny. Calabrese. Belstar. Eastern Magic. Not to mention their close cousins Broccolini, Broccosaurus, and Broc Broc Hockey Poc.
I admit I am not a sophisticate but broccoli always tastes about the same to me. It’s good. It’s even good frozen. The first year I grew it I was excited by an article that said there is nothing like fresh broccoli just picked straight from the garden, and I had fresh broccoli and so I just picked it, and it tasted like all the broccoli I had ever eaten.
“I hate you,” I called over to the hose guy. “Why does there have to be so many kinds of broccoli?” Unfamiliar with rhetorical questions, he started to natter on about organic, non-organic, late, early, big heads, really big heads, bolting, unbolting, and I don’t know what-all. “I hate choices,” I said. I like to startle young people and it’s surprisingly easy. “Where’s your spinach?”
This time he pointed one finger. “And we only have one variety,” he called out.
“I love you,” I said, just before he explained “the rest” should be in later in the week.
I googled spinach when I got home and immediately found “25 spinach varieties to try in your home garden,” so at least they’d whittled the list. I’m not going back. Meanwhile, the article was helpful. I learned that “Spinach is an essential vegetable that was first discovered in ancient Persia. It first spread to India than to China through an ancient Chinese. Later, it spread to Spain, England, France and the rest of the countries. During the first world war, spinach juice was used to cure hemorrhage soldiers in France.”
“…And the rest of the countries.” I don’t know that I want a vegetable that spread through an ancient Chinese. I’d rather just get one fresh.
Our aging father, who had always had a vegetable garden, decided to grow tomatoes and herbs on his deck in planters. My sister and I had the spring job of taking his credit card to the nursery, making the selections, then planting the pots. He was most emphatic that the tomatoes we chose had to have NAMES. Not NUMBERS. “If it has numbers, don’t buy it,” he told us. “Only named varieties are any good.” Well, he could have named his kids 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but instead, we got names too. Thanks, Pop!
I plant only three tomato plants every year and one has to be a cherry. But I play around with the varieties. Of which there are five thousand. I think they run out of names sometimes.
This year I’m growing Jetsetter, Cherokee Purple, Black Beauty and Siberian Giant. Next year I’ll plant whichever of this year’s varieties does best, along with three more experiments. I thought it was six thousand…
Hahaha!!! Murr, I’m very sorry for the abundance of choices, but boy does this take me back to my first job out of high school in 79. Worked in the lumber dept for a Home Improvements store, but WANTED to work in the other half, in the “Garden Shop” with a large outdoor plant nursery… because I’d get to be outside and I smoked! I didn’t have to wait too long (the guy who worked the nursery got fired for stealing from the register) but we must’ve had 30 types of lettuce alone. I’m sure by now that’s multiplied by 5-10! Darn it, I quit decades ago but now I want a cigarette…
I can kind of see lettuce choices, but spinach? Collard greens? My mom and dad used to wax nostalgic over all the “lost” apple varieties of their youth because in the ‘fifties it had gotten down to Delicious, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, and Stayman. But apples really do have flavors. They’d be so pleased to see all 400 of them have come back. (Thank goodness they’re not here to see what happened in the rest of the world.)
“Delicious” apples are decidedly NOT so. They are sweet… which, I guess appeals to Americans. And they have a thicker skin, so they survive travel. But they CANNOT beat a Jonathan apple! (Which, admittedly, has a rather limited season.)
I have noticed changes in the flavor and quality of some varieties of apple over the decades. Is it true that in the sixties the Golden Delicious was great but now it isn’t, or has my sense of taste changed drastically? In the seventies I thought the Fuji was great but now it seems blah. Same question. But I’m pretty sure that the Newtown Pippins really are worse, because they even look different. I liked Mackintosh (sp?) when I was a kid, but now they all seem mealy…
Maybe it varies from year to year, depending on the climate and the “terroir.” I LOVED Jonathan apples the first couple years I tasted them. Now I’m like, meh. Of course, that may be because apple season is SO LONG, and I am eager to get to a new season by the end of it.
When we first planted tomatoes, we had room for 8, and I got 2 of 4 varieties (mostly ones that I remember my mom planting in her garden) plus I tried some “heirloom” varieties. Being a methodical sort of person, I kept track of which varieties did well and which didn’t. The heirlooms didn’t make the cut. They are determinate, so once they are done, they are DONE. Didn’t produce much fruit either. The indeterminate ones were best, as once they start fruiting, they keep going until the frost. Now we only grow 2 kinds — the ones who made the cut after several years of experimentation: Beefsteak and Big Boy. (Ones that did NOT do well: Celebrity, Rutgers, and Supersonic.) I make LOTS of Caprese salads and tomato and mayo sandwiches out of the fresh ones. Whatever is too much to eat gets canned in an “emergency canning session.” Last year was a banner year for our tomatoes; I still have about a dozen jars of tomatoes in the basement.
I don’t can, so my tomato needs are not great, except one MUST have fresh tomatoes. I just grow whatever makes lots of tomatoes because nine out of ten of them are going to have blossom end rot, and it all works out.
We had blossom end rot (or, actually, our tomatoes did) two years running. Both were years that had heavy rain, and so washed away any mineral content in the soil. Now we augment the soil with compost and various nutrients, and have had an explosion of tomatoes as a result. (And one doesn’t have to purchase fresh soil every year if one knows how to augment it naturally.)
I’ve tried all the remedies (usually involves lime and stuff) and I still get it, or don’t. Fortunately I need only enough tomatoes for salads and BLTs.
As soon as I took to liming the soil every year, blossom-end rot ceased to be a problem. (Once I tried spraying with a calcium-salt solution, and it killed the plants.)
Yes! That worked for us, too! The two years we had blossom end rot were VERY wet, and it just washed all the nutrients out of the soil. So now we augment the soil with all kinds of organic stuff, some that WE make, and some that we buy.
I haven’t been able to plant vegetables in recent years because between squirrels and groundhogs they just get eaten before I get a bite out of any of them. Except peppers. They seem to not attract rodents. Unfortunately, we don’t need that many peppers.
I worked on a farm in the summers in my late teens/early 20s before I got a real job after college and the farmer’s favorites were Jet Stars (they ripened early, in time for 4th of July weekend) and Supersonics (ripened later but had great flavor – more acidic than these modern tomatoes that are just sweet).
I usually try to get those varieties plus a Roma and a cherry when I do grow them. But I’ve also had Early Girl and some of the others. Whatever variety, they’re better picked ripe from your own garden! Same with broccoli. Fresh from the garden is milder and less bitter, in our experience. But I’ve had some really good broccoli from farm stands.
I really can’t notice with the broccoli, but home tomatoes are the only way to go! Store tomatoes and all winter tomatoes are not tomatoes.
I’ve heard store tomatoes referred to as “notional tomatoes” by a comedian (can’t remember who.) Sums it up.
“Just two things that money can’t buy — That’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!” –Guy Clark
Around 1980 an elderly chemist lady told me, with slight exaggeration for effect, that UC Davis, working on behalf of the biggest commercial growers, had, to facilitate machine-picking, bred “square green tomatoes.”
Oh, and agree about apples! I like tarter apples just as I like tarter tomatoes.
I have the same ‘choice’ problem in a coffee shop. “Do you have any normal coffee?” as a question usually results in some quizzical looks.
It’s easier just to walk out.
Or just to make your own. It’s not difficult and SO much cheaper. I have a neighbor that actually DRIVES a block and a half to MacDonald’s at 6am just to get coffee! WTF??!! That’s just wrong on so many levels.
I want the plants that laugh at burning deer, as they would also get a good chuckle at my attempts to keep them alive in my garden. Despite my best endeavors, they would probably thrive anyway.
Plants that laugh at burning deer
May welcome bees that visit near
To float between the leaves of green
Where dewdrops recently have been,
And find the orange flames of fire
In marigolds of sweet desire.
You get next week’s post. Have it on my desk by 8am.
I don’t go anywhere near the vegetable section of any nursery and lately I avoid the flowers too. I just have no room left in my patch of succulents, which are the only things that grow there anyway. But if I ever have a decent sized garden again, I’ll be searching for and old fashioned Golden Queen peach tree before I look at things like tomatoes.
I’m not familiar with the Queen, but I tried a Veteran peach once and abandoned it because around here you have to spray for peach leaf curl three times a year if you’re going to get anywhere.
Broccoli has been my favorite vegetable for as long as I can remember. Never understood why some of our presidents wouldn’t eat it. But I’ve never tried Broccosaurus or Broc Broc Hockey Poc. Need to get me some of those. They sound delicious. Unlike Delicious apples, which are decidedly undelicious. What’s in a name, anyway. Eggplant sounds awful but tastes great.
I like eggplant too, but there’s something about the texture that makes me think it would be even better for some other purpose. Insoles, maybe.
From a family that raised fruit…. the original red delicious was striped red and green ( mostly green) and tasted good if ripe. All the descendent cultivars are aimed at total redness and hardness. Nothing to love there….
Nope! Gosh, I get misty just thinking of how rapturous my parents looked when they talked about all the apples of their youth. They got the same look talking about the advent of indoor plumbing, though.
What a timely discussion of plant variety on 4/20. Both my children, much to my dismay, both have a love of gardening that I would have never thought possible when they were growing up and snickering at my attempts every spring to start tomatoes from seed in January, and plant the peas in March. In fact, my son blew me away today by telling me how much he appreciates the example I set in the garden, and strives to produce plants that thrive in his garden. He does all the favorites -Blue Dream. Wedding Cake. Durban Poison. GMO. Gelato. Jack Herer. Sour Diesel. Girl Scout Cookies. Asked me which one I’d like to grow one time, I picked Girl Scout Cookies. That seemed promising. But today, he actually asked me if there was anyway I could get my hands on those seeds that used to grow wild in the Midwest where I grew up. He wants to name the strain after me. Ah.
When we moved into this house we inherited a 70-year-old apple tree that I assumed was a crabapple, as we live tucked up under the brow of the Rockies in Zone 2b. We have an average 51-day growing season. But that old tree produces huge crops of 3.5- 4″ green and sweetly tart eating apples. They last in the fruit drawer well into February. Neighbours pick what we can’t use. I haven’t found a tomato that will ripen in our short season, but a little lower down I grew and loved Starfire, Big Girl, Cherokee Purple and for the wee ones, Tumbler and Little Lemon. And Murr, try the Broccoli Raab, it’s fabulous!
I was thinking about doing that last year but I forgot. Hmm
I have a black thumb. If it won’t thrive on neglect, it will die in our yard. We tried zucchini last year. By God, we got some!! Not enough to make zucchini bread, but a few crudités worth. Tomatoes arrive at our place and wilt before we can get them in the planters. I will happily take any leftovers anyone may have.