Saturday, January 31, 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

.

Solano News

Solano County confirms 1st local case of measles

By Staff and wire reports | From Page: A1

 
SPCA begins caring for more than 100 rescued dogs

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
 
Top workers, top students – and succulent crab

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Armijo students savor catered Fuddruckers lunch

By Susan Hiland And Susan Winlow | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Life sentence in 2011 execution-style killing

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: A3

Partial Fairfield freeway road closure starts Monday

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

 
DUI patrols set for Super Bowl Sunday

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3

Fairfield police log: Jan. 29, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

 
Suisun City police log: Jan. 29, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A9

Another trip to Texas reminds me how lucky I am

By Murray Bass | From Page: B10

 
.

US / World

Man charged in California family’s deaths will be own lawyer

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

 
Stanford University to get $50 million to produce vaccines

By The Associated Press | From Page: A3

Yosemite park fee hikes coming in March

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
San Francisco coroner says human remains are from 1 man

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

PG&E releases thousands of emails with state regulators

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Judge expresses doubt about constitutionality of no-fly list

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

French fracture laid bare as 8-year-old praises terrorists

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Africans open new front in war on terror to fight Boko Haram

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

US mulls Middle East-North Africa category for 2020 Census

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Balloon crew makes history crossing Pacific Ocean

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Murder trial begins 35 years after 6-year-old vanished in NY

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Judge: Funeral home wrongly sold Lee Harvey Oswald’s casket

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Jordan awaits proof hostage is alive after swap deadline

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
New lottery tickets come with a side of bacon – scent

By The Associated Press | From Page: B10

 
.

Opinion

 
GOP should plan for post-Obamacare world

By Ramesh Ponnuru | From Page: A8

Editorial Cartoon: Jan. 31, 2015

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Solano College news makes me sick

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8

.

Living

Today in History: Jan. 31, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Jan. 31, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Horoscopes: Jan. 31, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

 
My recently widowed mother is already thinking about re-marrying

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

Five ways 3D-printed food will change the way we eat

By The Washington Post | From Page: B10

 
.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Miranda Lambert leads ACM Awards with 8 nominations

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Shakira gives birth to 2nd baby with Spanish football star

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Ex-rap mogul ‘Suge’ Knight arrested in deadly hit-and-run

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

List: 10 Super Bowl ads you’ll be talking about

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Rod McKuen, mega-selling poet and performer, dies at 81

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

LeBron returns, Love, Irving team for 44, as Cavs top Kings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Mustangs ride away from Indian’s home court with 66-60 victory

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Hayward, Utah Jazz upset Golden State Warriors 110-100

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Laird leads as Tiger shoots 82 and misses the cut

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Seau, Warner, Pace first-time Hall eligibles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Djokovic beats Wawrinka to reach fifth Australian Open final

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

N.H. Speedway general manager faces lewdness charge

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Kings’ Cousins to replace Kobe Bryant in All-Star game

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Judge: Jury can watch Super Bowl unless Hernandez mentioned

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Blackhawks Hall of Famer Stan Mikita has brain disorder

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Ko takes lead at LPGA opener, closes in on golf history

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Carroll says decision is Sherman’s if baby arrives early

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

NFL’s Goodell seeks to look past ‘tough year,’ to future

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
This date in sports history for Jan. 31, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Business

US consumer confidence at highest level in a decade

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Companies steering clear of Super Bowl name

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

.

Obituaries

Anthony Neal Hunley

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Frank Z. Perez

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Joe Lambert Robinson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Otilia (Tela) Quinn

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Danica Gojkovich Ryder

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
WillIiam “Bill” Hunter

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Garry A. Britton

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anneliese Edith (Luckner) Fraser

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
.

Home Seller 1/31/2015

Quirky add-ons a common feature of celebrity homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR2

5 ways to make a kitchen more germ-free

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3

Average US rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 3.66 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3

Real estate transactions for Jan. 31, 2015

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR3