The Toledo Botanical Garden is right on the edge of a fairly busy section of town, next to Reynolds, one of the major thoroughfares of Toledo, close to the freeway, just south of Central with its auto row and multitude of shops. Find your way to the TBG (and, indeed, ‘find’ is the operative word–it took me three tries to figure out how to get in, the small signs not helping, and I ended up walking from the farthest parking lot to where I was supposed to be because I was too exasperated to drive) and you’re suddenly outside the city. The trees block any view of residential or commercial neighbors; the stream floats along serenely; the carefully kept gardens are well-organized without being sterile; the underlying structure of the place is more apparent in winter, but doesn’t detract from the scenery.

I walked, as I said, across the field (where two intrepid people were playing frisbee in the snow), across the bridge, where a small man-made falls kept the water from entirely freezing, and to the visitor’s center. I gave my small envelope of seeds to one of the ladies at the front, and she gave me two long strips of tickets. “You use the tickets like money,” she explained. “If you see a plant or a seed you want, you pay for it in tickets. And since you brought seeds, you get twice as many.”

I went to the flower/herb room first and picked up a brochure on rain gardens, and read that there will be an herb sale in May. “Hi,” said a woman at one of the tables. I said hi back, and she said, “I saw you at the herb sale, right?” I shook my head. “That’s funny. You look so familiar. Oh well.” She flapped her hand, dismissing the issue. “Another plant-lover.” The place was mobbed, so I left and went to the main room, the vegetables.

The vegetable room was also mobbed, but being bigger it was more bearable. The tables were laid out by category: roots, corn, assorted flowers (the flowers in the flower/herb room were mainly natives), tomatoes, beans/peas, squash, greens, and Help. The tomatoes were going fast, the beets and corn not so much–“Five for a ticket!” the lady there said. “We have so many, and we were told we could give deals after we heard the lettuce was going two for a ticket.” I picked up five kinds of carrots (one packet of Scarlet Nantes should have counted as five all on its own, judging by its weight) and one kind of beet, Chioggia. I had only a vague interest in growing beets, but I’ve never had one, so I might as well try at least a few. Add one to my Growing Challenge list.

I got five squash for a ticket, too: yellow scallop, Zahra hybrid, Stella Blue Hokkaido, Crookneck, and Waltham Butternut (I already have butternut seeds, but I’m not sure about the whole inbreeding depression thing, since they’re from just one plant, and I sure as heck wasn’t getting another summer squash). I got six types of lettuce (two for a ticket), plus arugula and Blue Curled Vates kale and cutting celery (!) and Miner’s Lettuce, which I won’t grow because it’s purslane, only I didn’t realize that at the time. I got Delectable corn, which I noticed because it had been sprayed with bright red fungicide, and the woman at that counter waxed enthusiastic until I gave in and said I’d take a bag. “Have three!” she said, taking my one ticket.

I got peas and onions and turnips and three kinds of melons and Chinese cabbage (another one for the Growing Challenge) and some flowers and a couple of pumpkins for Edith and Michelle. I went back to the flower/herb room and found them almost cleared out, but did get some red-leafed basil and considered the fennel until I remembered it tastes like anise. With my last ticket I got some Principe Borghese seeds. The packet says 45% germination in 2006, so I’m not terribly hopeful about these, but I figured I might as well give them a try. Altogether I got thirty-seven varieties. This was twice as much as many of the people there got, but with half, especially for free, I would still have been exceptionally pleased.

Many of the seed packets were marked “Toledo GROWs,” and this turns out to be the TBG’s community garden outreach program. I went to the Plant Propagation talk after the seed frenzy, and had hoped it would discuss, say, dividing, grafting, and cuttings, but it was mainly on seeds for vegetable gardens. They’re trying hard to get people to grow their own plants; I think that’s the main purpose of the Seed Swap or, as I shall call it from now on, Seed Shop. It wasn’t really swapping, and in fact the man at the pea/beans table told me not to take a clearly homegrown packet because “who knows how they grew it, or what year?” I think that’s why I only picked up the one pea and no beans at all. But I do think the concept of a vegetable-garden outreach is marvelous. I wish I were staying here longer so I could help–but then, I’m sure there will be something similar wherever we end up next year. If there isn’t, I’ll help start it, because this was wonderful.

Of course, now that I’ve got thirty-seven new types of seeds, almost all of which I want to plant, I’m trying to figure out what happened to my garden plans, especially the seed-saving parts. I have this dreadful sense that I’m going to stick to my planting schedule but have to improvise as far as how much, and where, and which to plant at each specific date. I don’t like this feeling of my plan being derailed…but then, I do like this feeling of having so much to grow and try.