Chile: The Hot Seed Of 2003

Delivered to mailboxes in the depths of winter, seed catalogs are like a sunny day for gardeners dreaming of big, juicy summer tomatoes.

Seed catalogs have been part of U.S. horticultural history since the 1700s. The first were only one or two sheets of paper, but by the mid- to late 1800s, mail-order blossomed as people moved westward and didn't have access to stores. Today, shopping for gardening supplies via mail is still very popular, because catalogs often feature more seeds and plants than your local gardening store.

You could probably find 30 varieties of corn in the catalogs instead of the one or two at your local store. This year, it is expected that U.S. gardeners will spend about $2.3 billion to buy about 10 percent of their gardening supplies, seeds, and plants by mail, according to the Mail Order Gardening Association.

So, if you are a passionate gardener, George Ball Jr., president of the Burpee Seeds & Plants catalog, tells us what is hot in gardening this year.

Here are the trends:


Heirloom tomatoes have become "hot" again. In the last few years, we've seen many chefs and food magazines herald the taste of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are available only during a limited window of time during the summer. They originate from seeds about 20 some-odd years ago --- seeds that were not genetically touched like the hothouse varieties you often find at your grocery store.

Hothouse tomatoes were created so that we could have tomatoes nearly year-round. The result is that they are sturdier for shipping but also are considered flavorless by many chefs.

Despite their allure, heirloom tomatoes are hard to grow, so Burpee has found what they consider a great-tasting tomato with the hardiness of a hybrid tomato. The "Brandy Boy" tomato is tasty like an heirloom tomato, with the sturdiness of a hybrid.

The catalog also features other hybrid tomatoes. Each variety has different qualities. For example, one variety might be better for sauce whereas one variety is better for salads.


According to Ball Jr., everything "Latino is hot, hot, and hot!" He believes that the influence of America's fastest growing minority group is not only evident in music and fashion, but also in food. "People are eating hotter and cooking hotter every day and want to be able to grown those ingredients in their home garden," he says. In terms of "grow ability," chiles are easy to grow and extremely hardy.

Here are some popular chiles:

  • Poblana Chile Fresh
  • Jalapeno Chile (Green) Fresh
  • Chilaca Chile Fresh
  • Cayenne Fresh - Red
  • Banana Chile Fresh
  • Thai Chile Fresh
  • Korean Chile Fresh
  • Habanero Chile Orange Fresh
  • Fresno Chile Fresh Red
  • Caribe Chile Fresh Yellow

Fingerling Potatoes

Potatoes are becoming more diverse and gourmet, similar to the tomatoes. Fingerlings are easy to grow, maintain, and are hardy. Potatoes in general are very widely adapted and can grow virtually anywhere.

Patriotic Trend: The Burpee catalog features the Fourth of July potatoes. These are "new" potatoes. They have a fresh, nut-like flavor and are great for boiling, frying, or in salads. You plant the seeds by St. Patrick's Day and on Fourth of July your kids can dig them up. They are the blue, red, and white new potatoes

"Exotic" varietals:

These are staples or standard items you'd find at your grocery store.

  • Swiss chard - Not in the traditional red stem, but bright yellow - neon yellow. Swiss chard is tolerant of hot weather is considered easy to grow.
  • Rapini - Rapini is broccoli rabe. Long slender stalks with small clusters of broccoli like buds and leafy greens. This is not your traditional broccoli; it has bitter green taste and it is easy to grow.
  • Gold Carrots – A new carrot color; has a nice sweet flavor
  • Sugar Snap Peas - More productive and more disease resistant
  • Gai Choy: Chinese cabbage varietals like this one are becoming popular.

Trends in plants and flowers:
We also see the "exotic" trend in plants. According to Ball, U.S. gardeners are using unusual plants and shrubs to personalize their gardens. Unusual ornamental plantings previously found overseas are becoming more and more common in our gardens.

Flower trends for 2003 include taller flowers corresponding to smaller yards. As our parcels of land diminish the height of our plantings have increased. Ball also says that gardeners are going for a more "in the wild" look as opposed to a perfectly manicured garden.