Marion Owen photo

Wind, snow, icy streets, solstice. Real winter has settled in. What gets you through the dark days of winter? 

Let me guess. Bright colors? A new book? Hiking in Ft. Abercrombie? Learning how to draw? Planning for the future?

If you’re like me, I look forward to brighter days. As a photographer, light is key. As a gardener, I turn to seed catalogs.

  “Just when winter appears interminable, and it seems not one more bleak and bitter day can be endured, the first harbinger of the gardener’s spring arrives: The nursery catalogs,” says author Martha Smith.

Here are some guidelines for ordering seeds. I’ll also share my Top 3 catalogs, plus a list of plants the grow well in our climate. To be honest, not all my seed inventory originates from catalogs. I save seed, buy from local seed-savers and enjoy scouring seed racks in local stores. 

So let’s dig in.

I’ve kept records for over 30 years. My routine for ordering seeds is pretty much the same:

1. Collect tools: Catalogs, ruled tablet, pencil, cup of tea, wish-list.

2. Arrange tools on table

3. Pour a cup of tea

4. Ask for guidance (gardening is not an exact science) 

Guidelines for ordering seeds:

• Review last season: What worked? What didn’t? (Later, ask yourself why and fix it)

• Take inventory: Any leftover seeds? How old are they? Viability for onions, viola: 1 year. Broccoli, cilantro: 3-5. Lettuce and nasturtium: 5-6 years.

• Make a list: What do you like to eat? Favorite flowers? Try a new herb?

• Order early: The early bird gets the seed, as in favorite varieties. 

• Check climate suitability: Kodiak is a unique, temperate rainforest climate. Long summer days. But cool. Which zone? Local lore says Zone 3 to 5. Depends on your microclimate.

• Look for pest and disease resistance: Scab (potatoes), gray mold (lettuce), blossom end-rot (zucchini), fusarium wilt (tomatoes).

• Note days to maturity: Time from planting seeds or transplants, to when you can expect to begin harvesting.

• Decide on plant parenting: Open-pollinated, hybrid, GMO, heirloom, organic?

Here are my Top 3 seed catalogs:

• Fedco

• Johnny’s Selected Seeds

• Territorial Seeds

• Baker Creek Heirlooms, Stokes, Seed Savers, Nichols Garden Nursery

Oops, did I list more than three? Here’s the deal: I have my core catalogs, but I turn to others for that special onion or nasturtium variety.

Now here’s a list of easy-to-grow varieties for Kodiak:


Kale: Hardy, healthy and versatile. 

Carrots: Ever tried roasted carrot hummus? 

Snap peas: Vertical plants are great for small spaces.

Lettuce: All varieties do well here. Make a salad blend.

Potatoes: Many shapes and colors.

Onion: Grow from seeds or sets.

Cabbage: All varieties. Need a lot of room.

Spinach: A healthy “super green”

Broccoli: Most varieties love Kodiak.

Specialty greens: Adds punch to salads.

Broad (fava) beans: The northern lima bean.

Beets: Remember, tops are edible. 

Radish: Raw or cooked.

Brussels sprouts: Best eaten after a frost. 

Leeks: See Brussels sprouts.

Turnips: My favorite: Hakurei (sweet, white, golf-ball size)

Swiss chard: Adds color and crunch.

Cress: Zesty in salad or peanut butter sandwish.

In the greenhouse or hoophouse—Summer squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, bush and pole beans



Annuals: Calendula, pansy, nasturtium, sweet peas, baby blue eyes, dianthus, lunaria, Sweet Alyssum, Iceland poppy, silene, straw flowers

Biennials: Foxglove, Sweet William…

Perennials: Columbine, Shasta daisy, delphinium, bee balm, Jacob’s ladder, bleeding heart, autumn joy, (true) geranium, forget-me-not, primrose, blue poppy, Oriental poppy

Bulbs and other early perennials: Tulips, primrose, daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, lily



Chives: One of the first greens to sprout in spring.

Mint: Keep contained or you’ll have it everywhere.

Arugula (garden rocket): Adds gourmet zest to salads.

Oregano: Hardy, pretty plant. Dries well.

Parsley: Another must-have, vitamin-rich.

Sage: Ancient and fragrant.

Thyme: Overwinters well.

Dill: Grow for greens, seeds or both.

Fennel: Use bulb like onions or celery; leaves like dill.

Garlic: Plant in fall. Hard neck varieties are best.

In upcoming columns, I’ll share how to start seedlings and when. Meanwhile, if you’re new to garden catalogs, remember that all the lovely pictures in the catalog are of mature plants at peak perfection. Don’t despair if your plants don’t measure up. Keep trying. That’s what gardeners do, and gardening catalogs are there to entice us to do just that. 

Happy planting!


Marion Owen has 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. How? By “Readers’ Digest-ing” topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” to feel recharged when taking pictures. Go to Marion’s blog at



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