Sowing Seeds

A Gardener’s Pet Peeve

A typical vegetable seed packet. Lots of useful information, but nowhere does it show the plant’s height! Photo: http://www.frugalupstate.com

I’ve received many of my seed packets by now (I usually send in my seed orders in January), so I was going through them the other day, putting a bit of order into the chaos. I group mine by seed-sowing dates: which ones I sow indoors early (early March where I live), mid-season (April) and late (May), which I sow outdoors when the ground is cold and which only when the ground has warmed up. And all the special cases (you always find a least one seed variety that will need some sort of special treatment).

And I was also vaguely planning my garden, trying to work out an acceptable crop rotation plan for the summer.

To properly design an attractive vegetable garden, you need to know how tall the plants will become. Photo: freshpatio.com

And I ran into my usual problem when it comes to vegetable seeds: the seed packet almost never gives the plant’s height. They give all other information I want: when to sow, seed depth, recommended spacing, days to harvest, etc. But how tall is that darn plant going to become? I need to know that, as tall plants shade out shorter ones and I want to put those towards the back of the garden, but also because I try to make my vegetable garden look good and it won’t look so hot if some ginormous plant is jutting out, visually squashing the little guys just below! 

This isn’t the 1950s, when gardeners obediently planted all their veggies in neat little rows in a perfectly rectangular vegetable bed. We design with our vegetables, choosing some at least as much for their appearance as their taste, and we need to know their height. Everyone tells me that foodscaping is a trend… well, just try foodscaping when you don’t know how big the plant will become!

If They Can Do It for Flowers…

This is a flower seed packet, so of course it shows the height! Photo: http://www.gardeningknowhow.com

If I look at flower seed packets, even from the same company, bang: there it is! Height! In inches or centimeters or both. Flower seed packets always tell how tall the plant will be. Why can’t that same simple bit of information appear on vegetable seed packets as well? 

I especially need to know for the taller vegetables. Like, do I need a big tomato cage for that tomato or a small one? Or maybe it’s one of the short determinate ones that don’t need a cage? And some of those seed amaranths (both gorgeous and delicious) may be short and stocky, but others are monsters.

So, I spent about 40 minutes yesterday digging around on the Internet, looking for the height of each vegetable. I had to check each by cultivar name, because, yes, each variety is different, and by thorough searching, I found most of the heights and wrote them on the seed pack. Some, though, I had to guessimate. So much effort for something that should be so simple!

Come on, seed companies: share the info! Gardeners need to know the dimensions of their vegetables as much as those of their flowers. 

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

1 comment on “A Gardener’s Pet Peeve

  1. ? I did not give it much though. I do not try new varieties very easily. Actually, I prefer familiar varieties, even if I do not grow the same ones every year. Anyway, I sort of know how big they get. Therefore, I do not look for the expected size in the description on the label. I certainly would want to know how big a new variety would get.

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