Thursday 8 March 2012


A friend of mine keeps a pile of seed catalogues by his bed, so that when he can't sleep, he can flick through them and dream about what his garden might look like in the future. I can see where he's coming from, there's something so seductive about seed catalogues, and I love them. Even the names have a kind of magic - Sutton, Thompson & Morgan, my favourite "Real Seeds" - the kinds of enterprizes that have their history in the mud and good earth of our country. I guess in a way seed catalogues a bit like cookery books and food magazines, people buy them even if they know they're not going to actually cook one-tenth of the recipes in them. I could quite happily buy everything in a seed catalogue, even though I know I neither have the room nor the time to grow everything I want.

Seed catalogues are the promise of an arcadian dream, one where every seed sprouts into a beautiful plant that, in time, will groan under the weight of plump gooseberries, succulent strawberries, peachy, well... peaches. Every potato plant would hide a benevolence of tubers, every carrot and cabbage a glorious prize-winner. How can we fail to love them? The hyperbole that describes each packet are a modern-day version of the famous 17th Century poem, The Garden:

Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarene, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

I do love them, but the world of the seed catalogue is a world without greenfly, bad weather and my own personal nemesis, the slug. It's a world without effort, where a bumper crop is guaranteed without any of the hard work that we all know planting, tending and harvesting requires.

We all know how much hard work it can be, and many of us have that moment when we tell ourselves that next year, we'll be more realistic about our ambitions. But every time I spot a catalogue, I know that I'll fall in love all over again. The reality may be muddy, but for a couple of quid a packet, our dreams can be luminous.


  1. I think that the main problem for most people is lack of access to experienced 'mentors' - especially when the plant that you spent so much time nurturing gets sick. It is never easy to identify the problem and the cure. Hopefully Transition can help spread skills and knowledge.

  2. Hi John,

    Garden organic realised this, and set up the Master Gardener scheme. It also runs in Norfolk, and we are happy to come and help everybody grow more food. For free: