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Gardening: Dreaming of Green 

How to keep that dirty little mind busy during the cold months.

I think we need to have a little talk, you and me. There I was, watering that twig you call an orchid in your bedroom when I accidentally found these under your mattress. Now, you look me in the eye and tell me — are these ... seed catalogs?

Is it that we don't give you enough to do? Have you planted all your bulbs? Have you pruned everything in the yard? Cleaned up the mess under the boxwoods? Turned that compost heap? I can't believe you have enough free time to look at these lurid plant photos and their, ahem, full-bodied descriptions.

I used to be like you — whiling away the winter months with thoughts of curving stems and fleshy fruit. Peggy Singlemann, manager of horticulture at Maymont Park, knows about your kind too: "They sit around the house and look at these gorgeous catalogs with these scrumptious pictures," she says of the daydreaming gardener in winter.

The seed catalog, "the vehicle for each company to sell their wares," as she puts it, features rich photos or "mouthwatering descriptions," seducing the desperate gardener with promises for the future and unveiling new trends and hybrids.

Singlemann, who does all the ordering for Maymont, has been in your shoes. Here's what the catalogs are touting this season, she says:

Encore azaleas and roses as a ground cover are two ideas that will get you dirty, as well as "the heirloom variety of vegetables and flowers," those hardy standards of yesteryear.

The growers are featuring the latest stuff, too, especially when maintenance costs are an issue. "Hybridizers are taking a serious look at water conservation needs," Singlemann says, and pushing plants that last into the winter season. Imagine — flowers all year long. How excessive! "A fragrant blooming plant in February is a gem," she says.

What does Singlemann recommend you look for in seed catalogs? Their postmark. Region influences language, she says. So "drought tolerance" in South Dakota means something different than it does in South Carolina. And keep an eye out for "grower's choice" selections in the catalogs. They're recommendations from the guys who know their plants the best. Also, she suggests comparing the quantity of seeds versus the price to ensure the value behind those ... provocative images.

Oh, well, I guess you are growing up — you're not my little gardener anymore. And it's only natural that you get interested in these kinds of magazines. A little fantasy is good from time to time.

"It's an opportunity to dream," Singlemann says, "a great way for people to expand their minds." In the fantasies conjured up in those winter musings, "okra is exactly as it is on the page. No insects, no drought, no neighbor's dog coming by and chomping on the tomatoes."

But don't you get ahead of yourself, Singlemann cautions, because "then there's the challenge of making it that way." Now go to your garden.

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