One of the most popular blog posts here continues to be the series on the American potager, so I gather that many readers are planning or considering an ornamental kitchen garden. Therefore, as a follow-up post, here are a few items to consider planting for a true gourmet garden, as well as some interesting seed sources to provide those items. Some of you may already be familiar with Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, for open-pollinated varieties, or with Seeds of Change in California, for totally organic seeds; but smaller seed purveyors can offer planning tips and ideas that often are not available from larger companies. The only company in the following group I can recommend from experience is Renée’s Garden Heirloom Seeds; the others simply seemed interesting due to the type of seeds offered. Ergo, caveat emptor.
Renée Shepherd used to own Shepherd’s Garden Seeds. She sold the company to White Flower Farm a number of years ago. A few years later, she once again offered seeds under her own label and with her own gifted ability to select the finest varieties. Many of her seeds are exclusives. Her basil varieties and her lettuces are always exceptional. The Leeks, French ‘Baby Primor’, look irresistible.
Want to buy some seeds directly from the Italian grower? Franchi Seeds provides you the opportunity. For gourmet cooking, try the San Marzano tomatoes and the French thyme.
Or how about buying seeds from W. Legutko in Poland? Leek Bartek looks appealing. Most of Poland has the same climate as U.S. Zone 5, so any of the Polish seeds should grow well for Midwest and Northeast gardeners. I also recommend, if you’ve never tried planting them, the Night-Scented Stock (Matthiola bicornis), also known as Evening-Scented Stock. It’s an annual that germinates very rapidly, so you could still plant some now. Make sure you plant it so that the prevailing westerly breezes can carry the scent to your deck, patio, screen porch, or through an open window. The plants usually start emitting clouds of the most heavenly fragrance beginning around dusk. The flowers are short (about 6”-8” tall) and not especially handsome, but rather delicate looking. It’s best to tuck them in where they won’t be noticeable, or else grow them in a terracotta pot that you can position to take advantage of the fragrance. Either way, make sure the planting soil is very friable and then just barely cover the seeds with soil or potting mix. Keep the seeds moist while they’re germinating, but don’t drown them with water or the tiny seeds might be washed away.
Two more seed companies to consider for your potager: Territorial Seed, in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and seedaholic.com, in County Mayo, Ireland. Territorial, which also sells some plants as well as seeds, sells the delicious, edible “Gem” marigolds. For gourmet meals and tea sandwiches, try some of their Watercress seeds. For sweetening your own drinks, grow some of their Stevia.
Seedaholic offers French Sorrel (cold sorrel soup is one of summer’s great pleasures), Curled Chervil, and organic baby leaf ‘F1 Palco’ Spinach, among many excellent and unusual selections. Seedaholic’s website also has a terrific section on companion plants, edible plants, cottage garden plants, and other useful gardening information. The plant descriptions are the best I’ve seen from a seed source, but you may still need to double-check hardiness zones of some of the flowers and vines before ordering.