I’ve received two seed catalogues in the mail in the last couple of weeks. The Diggers Seed Annual and the Lambley Nursery Seed Manual. They’re almost identical in size and glossiness etc, but couldn’t be more different in their underlying philosophy, particularly in regard to their vegetable seeds.
The Diggers Club has for years taken a ‘what’s old is new’ approach, slamming all new developments including genetic modification as well as the more benign F1 hybrid technology in favour of heirloom varieties.
The Lambley catalogue is a relative newcomer, and totally celebrates the power of modern breeding (emphatically non-GM breeding) to overcome diseases, climatic intolerances and other limitations of old varieties.
I’m kind of enjoying the stoush, as polite as it is. And we home gardeners, with no need for the argument to be so polarized, are the beneficiaries.
I love the diversity-for-diversity’s-sake approach of The Diggers Club. I love the breadth of choice, and the recognized importance of maintaining as many of the old varieties as possible. I even love the romance associated with growing varieties that my great-grandparents may have eaten. But there are limitations to the heirloom argument, the most compelling being that these varieties were usually the result of many years of scrupulous selection, and that maintenance of this quality requires ongoing careful selection, which is rarely exercised. Some believe that the quality of many of these old varieties has diminished significantly over time as a consequence.
On the other hand, I love the personal nature of the Lambley catalogue. It’s more of a personal selection, in fact, than a comprehensive catalogue, and many of the varieties listed are the result of David Glenn’s own frustration with the failure of older varieties and his long-term search for the best for his own vegie garden. Additionally and consequently, the catalogue is peppered with hard-won tips that may seem like easy give-aways to the new gardener, but are priceless gems to the gardener that may have dealt with long-term failure of certain crops – like me.
I also love, but confess to being a bit disarmed by, the confidence expressed in recent breeding. We’ve been conditioned to be very skeptical about the motives of breeders of vegetables. But I’m also used to listening to, and trusting, David Glenn’s findings. I’ll certainly be trying some of his recommended F1 hybrids this year (despite the elevated cost, which David defends as good value, given the very high germination rates of his seed).
Make sure you get hold of both the Annual and the Manual. Let’s hope that the rise of the latter reflects a resurgence in the home gardeners’ commitment to, and confidence in, the processes of growing their own vegies from seed.