Opening seed catalogues is like turning over a new leaf. At the start of the gardening year, they offer exciting new varieties and the hope that everything really will go swimmingly for us.

Growing from seed is immensely satisfying. It suits my pocket since one little tomato plant costs the same as a packet of seed and there’s a much wider choice of varieties.

And take environmental issues. How many commercially-grown seedlings are wholly or partly raised in CO2-emitting peat, have been treated with synthetic chemicals or are sold in plastic containers?

So grow from seed if you’ve got space and time.

Luckily I’ve got both and reckon poring over catalogues in front of a roaring fire is the best way of spending a cold wet January afternoon, but I try to avoid over ordering.

How much room have I got? How will I allocate the space? How many individual plants do I actually need? Boring questions, I know, but I hate throwing away lots of healthy little plants or planting too closely.

Start by checking out recommended spacing distance. Greedy brassicas like caulis and broccoli need 45 to 60cm between plants. Carrots, on the other hand snuggle closely together in a row. Potatoes sit between 30 and 60cm apart, while cut and come again lettuces are happy with 5cm after thinning.

Find out how quickly a plant matures. Does it occupy a piece of ground for the whole year, like kale, or can you can squeeze in a fast-growing catch crop, such as white turnips or radishes after clearing away early sugar peas.

Though many vegetables are annuals, some are perennials so could catch you out. Every veg grower has some leaf crops and Salad Rocket obligingly matures in as little as 4 weeks. Wild Rocket, on the other hand, is a slower growing perennial.

Each and every variety in a catalogue is obviously described as exquisite, mouth-watering and tasty, but put that aside to drill into real information about the plants.

As far as possible, I look for varieties that can stand up to Scottish weather. A variety that ‘withstands stress conditions’ is always welcome. Rocket ‘Esme’ does exactly that. It usually comes through a mild winter and doesn’t instantly flower during a warm, dry spell.

When ploughing through the lengthy list of lettuces, go for ones described as ‘resistant to bolting’. This type of plant retains a fully developed head for a fortnight or so, before ‘bolting’ or throwing up a flowering stalk prematurely. Several other vegetables can be liable to bolt, usually following a change in the weather, say when wet weather follows a prolonged dry spell. With lettuces, warm, dry summer conditions often stimulate bolting.

Tender summer courgettes, squash and French beans grow quickly and shouldn’t be sown till the risk of frost is nearly over. But other tender species such as chilli and sweet peppers, are perennials in their native south America, so grow more slowly. They should be sown next month in a heated greenhouse, otherwise in March. Whichever you grow, choose ‘early maturing’ to let them fully ripen in Scotland.

Tomatoes also grow slowly, so should be sown as for peppers. But again, choose varieties suitable for cooler Scotland. A variety described in an English catalogue as suitable for ‘outdoors’ is ideal for a Scottish greenhouse or in more favoured parts of the country, a polytunnel.

Since blight is becoming a serious problem for tomatoes as well as potatoes, look out for varieties described as ‘blight tolerant’ or ‘blight resistant’. Any variety with resistance to any pest or disease is less likely to succumb to the problem, but is not immune.

Plant of the week

Narcissus ‘Paperwhite’, Narcissus papyraceus, have the strongest scent of any narcissus. Best grown indoors, they transform the dark days of winter.