In between the observance of Christmas and New Year’s, when the majority of Edgar County residents were looking forward to the end of 2020, Randy and Brad Weir of Weir’s Florists in Paris …
In between the observance of Christmas and New Year’s, when the majority of Edgar County residents were looking forward to the end of 2020, Randy and Brad Weir of Weir’s Florists in Paris had one thing on their minds — geraniums.
Randy Weir shared just before Christmas he was headed for Ohio on Tuesday, December 29, to pick up their annual truck full of geranium plugs as the longtime greenhouse and florist business looks forward to its 50th anniversary season.
In 2020, Randy Weir noted, when the COVID-19 virus basically closed down the county from March until June, the greenhouse was full of colorful flowering annuals and perennials as well as vegetable seeds and starts. By early May, customers had basically wiped out the flowering and home garden plants and arrangements. “There wasn’t much color left,” Brad Weir said.
Once the geraniums were delivered to the greenhouses, Brad Weir got busy planting them. He explained the business plants from seed most of the bedding plants.
Randy Weir said it was 50 years ago — in 1971 — that his late father and mother opened the greenhouse on Clinton Road. The business eventually grew to include several greenhouses, a robust florist business with several floral designers as well as wedding and special occasion florists.
A celebration of the 50th anniversary is planned for later this spring, Randy Weir said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to have an open house,” he said.
Meanwhile, Weir said he and his son are planning to fill the greenhouses — including the two new greenhouses — with flowering plants, patio and other arrangements and everything customers need to design their own special arrangements for their home or to honor loved ones.
Seed catalogs in the mail
It’s an exciting time. In January, the seed catalogs start arriving.
It’s time to prepare to grow and start planning the vegetable garden. But slow down and take a deep breath. Without good planning, it’s easy to start too many seeds, too soon overcrowding the little indoor space one has until half the plants are dead.
The colors of the garden catalogs that billow through the mail slot in January can warm the bones and lift the soul. For more experienced gardeners, it doesn't even take pictures — adjectives are enough. New! Double! Disease-resistant! Heirloom! Chartreuse!
It can easily heat us up to a kind of delirium, in which we order 25 times as many varieties as we have space for. Or:
-They all will need harvesting the week we're going on summer vacation.
-We didn't realize we had to start the seeds indoors before transplanting them outside.
-They are plants that are fabulously photogenic but have little chance of setting much fruit or flowers in the little sun we have.
Pause before — or if — ordering. Step out back for a breath of bracing fresh air. Take a look at where the actual growing is going to be, bare though it may now be. Apply a little methodical thought to the situation and bring that catalog fever down.
Nurturing food or flowers from seed is uniquely satisfying.
"There's no other flavor like a home garden vegetable," said George Ball, president of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in Warminster, Pa., one of the nation's oldest and largest catalog companies. And even a novice can do it — with the right plants.
A good way to start is to experiment with new or borderline plants. "Seeds are cheap, so go ahead and try it," said Karen Park Jennings, president of Park Seed Co. and Wayside Gardens in Greenwood, S.C., two other big catalogs. "You aren't losing much if it doesn't work."
In the tumultuous 2020 seed-catalog season, resilience proved a valuable human trait as well, for seed company staff and their customers. Insights gleaned from that chaotic year of record sales can smooth the ground for the 2021 garden season, which officially begins this month, as new catalogs start appearing in mailboxes and online.
As Randy Weir mentioned earlier, no one could have seen it coming — sales spikes of as much as 300 percent that began immediately after a national emergency was declared on March 13 and as greenhouses throughout the U.S. began opening.
“When many of us came back to the office Monday, we were astonished to see how many orders had come in,” said Joshua D’errico, marketing coordinator for Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which has 47 years of sales history for comparison. “We thought it was a blip, but it wasn’t.”
Fulfillment operations were pushed past capacity; sales had to be suspended by most every supplier, sometimes repeatedly, in attempts to catch up. Catalog requests and web searches for growing advice were way up, as well.
But sellers large and small, older and newer, have a reassuring message for home gardeners: They are well stocked. There are no seed shortages beyond what can happen in any farming year, when crop failure in one variety or another is always a possibility.
That may sound counterintuitive to those of us who saw out of stock labels on many website product pages last spring. Despite the wording, it often wasn’t because of a lack of seed on hand.
Add to that the challenge of staffing up safely and operating within pandemic guidelines — plus mounting employee burnout — and something had to give.
Seed companies have worked overtime, skipping summer breaks, to refine and strengthen their systems. Before start madly browsing catalogs, it’s our turn, as home gardeners, to fine-tune our processes. Here are some thoughts on how to shop smart, plus some favorite catalogs.
Seed and plant catalogs also provide expert growing information — not simply when to sow, or how far apart, but which varieties stand up to summer heat — insights that can help one order and then sow each in its time, yielding months of continuous lettuce for salads, for example.