That is true of the way we order plants and seeds, and the venerable traditions of the garden catalog.
Now more than ever, the use of paper is going the way of the dinosaur. While there are still good garden catalogs that come in our mailboxes, most are online. You must either sign up for a paper one to be sent to you, or be a recent customer. Most of the information on this page still holds, however. And in this day of mandatory gardening hype, the things said about color and plant descriptions are as true as ever.
Why use catalogs?
I think garden catalogs are indispensable, unless you have acquaintance with an ultra-Master gardener who will teach you AND help you locate the plants. Some catalogs are useful as references, all are now necessary for obtaining less common plant materials.
Ten years ago this wasn’t so; the garden centers and nurseries once carried a vast supply of interesting plants and seeds -all hand-picked for your own climate conditions, but for reasons beyond the scope of this little article, the best hope for buying Reseda odorata, or any other lesser known plant, will be through a catalog.
Catalogs come in three main divisions: highly reputable and expensive stock illustrated in glossy full color beauty; less well known yet reputable, in inexpensive lists; and colorful less reputable purveyors.
For obvious (I hope) reasons, I will only list the catalogs I have had good dealings with; but here is a hint …if the colorful pics don’t match up with the prices (the too-good-to-be-true syndrome) take a close look at the sizes that will be provided. If the pieces of information don’t match, you are taking a chance; fine if it works out, and you were warned if it doesn’t.
- Check out the annual plant list page for individual variety descriptions before you order.
- Descriptions of choice small bulbs.
- Cottage plants and Herb descriptions
Understanding the Jargon
A riddle for you, when is blue not blue? That’s right, whenever the garden writers decide that a blue rose is wanted… and the same can go for the color red in peonies, so take the color descriptions with a grain of salt. There are no truly blue, or black, roses. There are bluish lavender and deepest maroon roses, and that is what you will find, barring photoshop magic.
Depending on your source, read the description as you would a personal ad (aw, you’ve read a few from curiosity, haven’t you?); “fast grower”, “vigorous” are the modifiers? We may be facing one of those highway robbers of the garden with running roots and greedy appetites. Just beware before you place it in your richest border.
If you are looking for bulbs, look for the word “top-size” and it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the cm. that is represented. Small sizes in bulbs are rarely a good buy, but in trees or perennials it can be an economical way to purchase IF you will give them the care such plants need. (Shelter, frequent and careful watering, prepared soil) .
Although I usually buy from a local nursery, I have regularly ordered roses from Wayside’s Catalog. It is my favorite source; do research the hardiness of the rose varieties or, if you are in Zone 5 and colder, look for the roses which are the rated for the coldest climates. Look for #1 stock, #1 1/2 is smaller and not as strong. Roses are sometimes sold by gallon size.
Now you are ready to find the best garden catalogs…read on…
This topic has sure changed since it was first written. While the list of companies whittled down, so too have the hard copies of actual catalogs. Now the majority of companies have their offerings online. The richly illustrated magazine look of what arrives in your mailbox is usually reduced to something a fraction of the size offered in former years
The Best Catalogs According To The Community
I spend a great deal of time reading my fellow garden bloggers and writers, and with the advent of twitter there has been so much helpful garden information passed along, including garden catalog favorites. I’ve tried a few, but more importantly some gardeners I highly respect rave about certain companies over and over. Here is the short list.
- Annie’s Annuals and Perennials
- Old House Gardens – Heirloom Bulbs
- High Country Gardens
- Oakes Daylilies
- Renee’s Garden
- Proven Winners
The Best Catalogs From My Experience
- Reference Quality
- Wayside Gardens
- Whiteflower Farm
- Van Dyck’s Flower Farm
- John Scheepers, Inc.
- Specialty Catalogs
- Oakes Daylilies
- Fine Smaller catalogs
- Thompson & Morgan expensive, but rarity and quality can be worth it.
- Park Seed affiliated with Wayside, good quality source.
- Renee’s Seeds (old ‘Shepherds’ varieties substitution chart)
- Bluestone Perennials
- Spring Hill I had good results in spite of their small plant sizes, which the catalog states plainly.
Here are some more worthwhile catalogs: Dutch Gardens. U.S. Reservation Center, 144 Intervale Road, Burlington, Vt., 05401, dutchgardens.com. Harris Seeds. 355 Paul Road, P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, N.Y. 14624-0966, harrisseeds.com Their catalog request page. Jackson and Perkins. 1 Rose Lane, Medford, Ore., 97501, jacksonandperkins.com back to top
- Martha Stewarts’s List of Favorites
- Cyndi’s List- it’s a compendium
- GardenWeb’s List
- Daves Garden Catalog Ratings
Plants wilted after planting? Getting leggy and spindly? Tips for planting success and More tips and hints for a great garden. My Favorite Tulip Varieties, an attempt to rate and describe the best from my thirty+ years of growing them in the garden. List of the Minor bulbs.
Some things Change
Some don’t. When I first wrote this page many updates ago (1998), online merchandise was in it’s infancy and mail catalogs were still the primary source of ordering goods. Most of the companies are still in business, although “Mellingers” is long gone, and Smith & Hawken closed its doors. (That is very sad- they were a fine company and a fine catalog!).
However, I have long recommended “Brecks” as a great company to do business with. The only change that makes is that, after all these years of telling about my good experience with their bulbs, I stand to receive something to support my site from their sales. Their customers will continue to get great plants. Now that is a great deal :)
Betsy Jukofsky writes:
Allison Saylor and Gillian Texeira of Trade Secret Gardens recognized this and came up with a telling Garden Catalog Dictionary that Tim Drake of Valleycrest Landscape passed on to The Avid Gardeners garden club.
“If the catalog says that the plant has “beautiful foliage,” it really means that the flowers are pathetic. “designer colors” are actually paper bag beige. And “dormant in hot weather” means it looks dead most of the year. My favorite is this catalog description: “unusual,” meaning one of the ugliest plants on the planet. “
Here are a few catalogs to consider
Quicklist: hints and tips
Use Your Catalogs To The Max
- Sign up online for many catalogs
- Take your catalog along to public gardens- check out how something really looks in the garden
- Shipping Dates- check them and be ready for your new arrivals
- You can use the pictures and descriptions in your garden journal
- Common names can be misleading, so investigate the Latin or scientific names (they are usually in there somewhere You might not get the plant you think you ordered. oops!
- Cut flowers can easily be ordered online