- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

It is the siren call of spring.
Aunt Ruby's German Green, Speckled Swan, Blue Hopi, Lemon Queen, Little Gem, Eye of the Tiger, Latin Lover, Pink Banana Jumbo all seeds, and all meant to thrill the heart of any mulch-souled gardener who ever picked up a trowel.
These are a few of the new arrivals this year, introduced like debutantes by scores of seed companies that parade their verdant virtues in catalogues, gardening shows, books, magazines and live demonstrations, complete with special effects.
And Americans respond.
They will spend a record $38 billion on their lawn and gardens in the coming months, according to the National Gardening Association. This is more than the annual revenue of AOL Time Warner Inc., more than the gross domestic product of Morocco and more than the federal education budget.
More than two-thirds of us get out there, spending an average of $530 on the ways and means of growing, mowing, sowing and hoeing.
Who could possibly resist the lure of, say, the Lazy Wife Pole Snap Bean, an heirloom variety that was brought here by German immigrants in the 1800s, offers 5-inch pods and costs roughly half a cent per seed?
"People love it all. They don't get mad in a garden. They go out there, they realize they're doing the same thing their ancestors did, out there digging and relaxing," said Tom Hauch of Heirloom Seeds (www.heirloomseed.com) in West Elizabeth, Pa.
Mr. Hauch is particularly proud of his Black Valentine Pole Bean and Red Brandywine tomatoes, which he says are best-sellers among those who favor old-fashioned varieties.
"They're growing stuff that Thomas Jefferson would have approved of. And even people who don't even have a garden want to grow tomatoes," Mr. Hauch said.
Out at Victory Seeds in Molalla, Ore. (www.victoryseeds.com), new spring thrills include Glory of Enkhuizen, a cabbage, and Crosby Egyptian, a beet. There's Chicago Warted Hubbard Squash, French Breakfast Radish, Honey Rock Muskmelon Mike Dunton lists them all like a proud father.
"These are all open-pollinated heirlooms. You can save the seeds and grow them next year," he said. "Besides, gardening is unbelievably therapeutic."
Mr. Dunton left his job as a San Francisco technology executive to manage his grandfather's Oregon farm, where he now grows dozens of vegetable seed varieties and holds court with a hoe older than he is.
"We found it here. I know it belonged to my granddad or grandma, and it's now worn down to nothing," he said. "But it works like a charm between the rows."
Over at Pennsylvania-based Burpee Seeds (www.burpee.com), the Latin Lover onion and Billionaire Eggplant are among the 2002 offerings, along with a jade green sunflower. At Prairie Frontier (www.prariefrontier.com) in Waukesha, Wis., Rattlesnake Grass, Silky Wild Rye and something called Little Blue Stem are still favorites.
Dioneae Muscipula Venus Fly Trap remains king of the peat moss at California Carnivores (www.californiacarnivores.com), a sizable farm about an hour's drive north of San Francisco where plants that dine upon unsuspecting flies or bits of hamburger, anyway are indeed sold.
"Fly traps are always great sellers, but collectors really into some of the more obscure pitcher plants and sundews," noted founder Peter D'Amato, author of the 1999 book "The Savage Garden."


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