Friday, March 27, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Seeds with the home gardener in mind

GARDENING

In one of her two trial gardens at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif., seed catalogue owner Renee Shepherd evaluates a new Dutch variety of Brussels sprouts. She selects varieties for home gardeners. Illustrates GARDENING (category l), by Adrian Higgins, (c) 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, March 06, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Adrian Higgins.)

By
From page AHW26 | April 05, 2014 |

Renee Shepherd owns a seed company geared to (and cherished by) home gardeners. When I was in Northern California recently, I asked if I could come by for a chat. She told me to come to her home, a sage green ranch house on four sloping acres in the hills above Santa Cruz. The property is about a mile from her office. “Come for lunch,” she said.

This surprised me a little because a part of me imagined that at the height of the winter seed-buying season, Shepherd would be otherwise engaged in the frenzy of getting a packet of radish Pink Beauty to Tammy in Topeka and a packet of radish Pink Punch to Bob in Baltimore.

Renee’s Garden sells thousands of varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds from its Web-only catalogue, as well as from racks in 1,600 retailers in the United States. But orders are handled by folks in a warehouse in Boulder, Colo. Shepherd is the creative force behind the enterprise, a role that allows us to sit at her dining table sampling a salad of greens from her garden while her pet cockatiel, L’Oiseau, looks on with stunning indifference.

The seed business is a $3 billion-a-year global industry. Only a fraction of that is designed for the needs and desires of the home gardener. Each year in this country, almost 100 million acres are planted in field corn and another 78 million acres in soybean. I reserve about 20 square feet for carrots. To the big seed companies supplying commercial varieties by the ton to farmers, my little garden barely registers.

This is where niche seed merchants such as Shepherd come in, people who understand that to a gardener, a row of beets is not a field crop but a source of pride and anticipation. So I don’t want a common red beet, I want a juicy golden beet, or a striped Italian variety. I want a beet that will love me back.

To put together her catalogue, Shepherd deals with 60 or more specialty seed producers in the United States and around the world. Over the years, as the seed business became more specialized, she had to find more producers – farmers who cultivate a crop for its seed. “We buy seed from a lot more producers, and I work hard to find new ones,” she said. “I’m looking at peppers from the Czech Republic and Hungary because they have so much more material.” She said she finds more interesting varieties of flower annuals in Europe as well. “I’m interested in the color and forms. I find more for my home gardening niche in Europe.”

To an unusual degree, she designs her own seed mixes, and this has produced some enduring favorites. The obvious examples are her salad green mixes. My favorite is Paris Market Mix, which blends seven lettuces, escaroles, arugula and more. The taste is there, of course, but as important, it’s a medley that just looks good in the garden, especially at a young stage.

She has two trial gardens at home, where she tests offerings from her growers. If she likes prospective varieties, she will get others to evaluate them in other regions and climates.

February is pretty dead in the garden, even in California, but in the upper bed she was trying out some baby leaf kale and an Asian spinach with large, smooth, pointed leaves. Named Oriental Giant, it has a lot of leaf substance that bestows cold tolerance for fall and winter cultivation. In the lower garden, she walked me through rows of a Dutch variety of Brussels sprouts she hopes to introduce next year. It keeps a firm, tight bud, she said, offering one to her golden Lab, Eliot. He decided he liked it.

The food movement is driving much of her work. Veggies once considered undesirable are now in vogue, in part because gardeners know that a home-grown turnip, for example, is not the same beast as the turnip you find at a supermarket, and partly because we are getting more flavorful and nutritious varieties. “If you told me five years ago I would be trialing rutabagas, I would have said you were nuts. But now there is such an interest in root vegetables.”

Novelty drives interest. This season, she is introducing a particularly curled variety of kale, Dutch Darkibor. The world needs more kale variety — as much as I love Red Russian and Black Tuscan, it would be nice to try something else. Her new varieties also include a gourmet collard green (Green Flash), a yellow French bush bean (Roc d’Or) and a variety of scented dianthus with heavily fringed petals, in a mix of colors. Shepherd said she doesn’t expect Lace Perfume to sell particularly well — as a perennial it will take two years to put on a meaningful show — but she considered it special enough to offer.

I credit Renee Shepherd with making my vegetable garden floriferous. She has developed mixes of Shirley and California poppies, sweet peas and zinnias that I return to each year.

In an age of decline for honeybees and other pollinators, the flowers lure bees and butterflies into the garden in a compact with the gardener: Here’s some nectar, please pollinate something.

And yet flower sales have declined. Almost half of her business used to be in annual seeds. “Now it’s probably 30 percent flowers and the rest vegetables and herbs.” She thinks that as vegetable gardening took off just in time for the Great Recession, food gardeners lost interest in flowers or considered them a luxury during hard times. For years, I might add, consumers lost interest in seed-starting in general, knowing they could pick up flats of annuals already grown for them at the garden center. But growing things such as sunflowers, zinnias and tithonias from seed is cheap and easy.

Shepherd can now use the pollinator angle to pitch them, but she agrees there’s an even better reason. “It’s part of the joy of gardening,” she said.

Adrian Higgins

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    Solano News

     
    Brasher new president, CEO of Jelly Belly

    By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

    Rio Vista singer ready for Rancho Cordova show

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

     
    Everyday life inspires model’s music

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

    Hosting gig for comic, birthday party on weekend schedule

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

     
     
    Spring Fling set to return to Rancho Solano

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3

     
    Kids fishing day events return

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
     
    Fairfield police log: March 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

     
    Suisun police log: March 25, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

    .

    US / World

    Lawyers dispute hoax claim, boyfriend says he was drugged

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    Co-pilot believed to have purposefully crashed plane

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

     
    L.A. river revamp to cost double previous projections

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

     
    Governor awaits $1B drought relief bill

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    US drops graphic leaflet to possible Islamic State recruits

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    AP Exclusive: Special ops troops using flawed intel software

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

    State to alter ban on where sex offenders can live

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    Grateful Oklahomans salvage belongings after killer storm

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    Fact Check: Myths in the political roar over Common Core

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    US: Chicago-area cousins planned US terrorist attack

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    Report: Teen says mom killed her siblings found in freezer

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    House OKs bipartisan Medicare doctor bill; fate up to Senate

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

     
    Talent agency wants Matt McConaughey speaking fee secret

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    US Thunderbolt II attack planes on training in Poland

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

     
    Syrian government shells kill 18 in south, activists say

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

    Turmoil in Yemen escalates as Saudi Arabia bombs rebels

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

     
    Russian, American ready for a year in space

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

    Tunisians assure Star Wars sets safe from Islamic State

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Living

    Today in History: March 27, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Community Calendar: March 27, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

    Horoscopes: March 27, 2015

    By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

     
    Parents may be enabling son’s drinking and hurting his employment chances

    By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

    .

    Entertainment

    Week in preview March 27 to April 3, 2015

    By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B1

     
    ‘Downton Abbey’ to end after upcoming 6th season

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

    With ‘Downton Abbey’s coming demise, here are 5 past deaths

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Ken Burns unravels the mysteries of cancer in PBS film

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Review: Animated alien adventure ‘Home’ lands with a thud

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Entertainment Calendar: March 27, 2015

    By Susan Hiland | From Page: B4

     
    TVGrid

    By Daily Republic | From Page: B6

     
    .

    Sports

    Prep swimming preview: City teams look to make big splash

    By Paul Farmer | From Page: B7 | Gallery

     
    Marleau, Niemi lead Sharks past Red Wings 6-4

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7 | Gallery

    Warriors can match franchise record for wins at Memphis

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

     
    San Diego city, county join forces on bid to keep NFL

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Labor, developers reach deal on proposed Inglewood stadium

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Italians will pull out of America’s Cup if boats downsized

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Fiancee of Aaron Hernandez to be called to testify Friday

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Stanford’s VanDerveer, Notre Dame’s McGraw to face off

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Former Germany coach Berti Vogts joins Klinsmann’s US staff

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Officials OK demolishing Irwindale Speedway for outlet mall

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Signups for Friday, March 27, 2015

    By Paul Farmer | From Page: B8

     
    Sharks sign 2 college players

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Top-seeded Wisconsin hangs to beat North Carolina 79-72

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    49ers waive OL Jonathan Martin after 1 season with team

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    Notre Dame races by Wichita State 81-70 for Elite Eight spot

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

     
    Kentucky overwhelms West Virginia 78-39 in NCAA Sweet 16

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    This date in sports history for March 27, 2015

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

     
    Mirim Lee leads LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

     
    Charley Hoffman takes PGA lead in wind-swept Texas Open

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

    .

    Business

    Range Rover offers an exclusivity that’s rich with irony

    By The Washington Post | From Page: C1

     
    Google’s new CFO gets $70M for defecting from Morgan Stanley

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

    Bankruptcy hearing could decide fate of RadioShack

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

     
    Microsoft wants US suppliers to give employees paid time off

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

    Lawmakers unhappy with new fracking rules

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11 | Gallery

     
    Authorities go after crooked car deals in national crackdown

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

    Oil prices jump almost 5 percent as tensions mount in Yemen

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

     
    New Samsung, HTC phones coming April 10 in US

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B11

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Blondie

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Frank and Ernest

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Pickles

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Dilbert

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Baldo

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    B.C.

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Peanuts

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Wizard of Id

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Garfield

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Zits

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Rose is Rose

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Get Fuzzy

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    For Better or Worse

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Sally Forth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Beetle Bailey

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

     
    Baby Blues

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

    Bridge

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Word Sleuth

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Crossword

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

     
    Cryptoquote

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

    Sudoku

    By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9