Catalog dreaming—already



Over the years, solicitations from garden vendors have become so commonplace that I’m used to getting emails from Park Seed, High Country, and Jackson Perkins almost every other day, regardless of the season. I’m pretty sure that the word SUCKER screams out in flashing lights from every digital trail I’ve ever left. Most times I delete without reading, but it may be a mark of my generation that I still look forward to the printed catalog onslaught every winter.

Would I like the printed catalog to become an endangered species? I suppose so, but I also wonder if some companies are ready to survive on Internet ordering alone. Until that day, I will look forward with great pleasure to my Bluestone, Lily Garden, Van Engelen, Plant Delights, Old House Gardens, and Brent and Becky’s catalogs each season. The Bluestone 2008 catalog has already arrived. Early? Yes, but once the snow coverage gets over a foot, I’m more than ready to dream of plants.

The beautiful thing about Bluestone is the cozy chaos of its layout. (Graphic artists where I work would be discouraged from creating pages like these.) No matter how many times I pick up the catalog, I find something new—previously hidden from an overly linear sensibility—something that might just find a home in the back of the border. Bluestone strikes a balance somewhere in between the old-fashioned pack-em-in density of a seed catalog and the more refined organization of such fellow perennial vendors as Plant Delights and High Country Gardens.

The perennials that interest me for next season reflect a growing interest in height, in natives, and in new introductions from plant families that have previously been successful for me. But, like every other wish list I’ve ever made, it also reflects my stubborn refusal to accept that 1. I really don’t have room for any of this; and 2. Certain plants will never work in my yard, no matter how many times I try them.


Agastache Tutti Frutti : Hyssop Giant Oh what the heck. It says 6-10, but maybe I can protect it.

Coreopsis Jethro Tull I don’t really want this. I just like the idea of growing something that has Jethro Tull in the name. (Yeah, I know who the real Jethro Tull was but the name will always mean 70s prog rock to me.)

Eryngium Sapphire Blue I have always longed for it and I think I now have just the right never-watered spot.

Eupatorium rugosum “Chocolate” Having avoided this plant for years, I’m now ready for it, in a border that will mainly be other tall, weedy-looking perennials. I’m going for the mini-meadow-in-the-city look.

Helianthus, heliopsis, helenium? I’m confused. Which do I have? Which do I need? I’ll probably end up with some varietal of one of these that promises to be tallest.


Hydrangea macrophylla Cityline Paris Ooh la la! I have the arborens and paniculata, but I still love the showy mopheads. Though it might be better to buy a more mature plant locally. There’s nothing more pathetic-looking than an undersized hydrangea.

And, oh-so-many more. Sure, you could engage in the same fantasies using your browser but there are still some places—the tub, the bedside table, an easy chair and a glass of wine—where a printed catalog works best.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I do hope that print catalogues are not phased out, somehow hold-in-your-hand catalogues are more reader friendly. You can flip back and fore, bend the pages so that you can see three at a time for comparisons, mark the plants you definately want and the ‘maybes’, and you can take catalogues to bed which is more than you can say for a computer and a website.

  2. After growing eupatorium chocolate for several years, in my garden anyway, it is not tall. It is a flopper. Still lovely, but definetly not tall. I am going to order the Bluestone catalog, based on your recommendation though. You can’t have to many pretty pictures.

  3. Susan, I am sure others who visit here have ordered from them, but in brief my answers to your qs are
    1. tiny
    2. cheap

    Both of these work for me. I find starting small works well in my space. Plant Delights definitely ships a larger plant, but they are pricier.

  4. AMEN to a glass of wine and actual pictures in my hands. As I look out my window at my snow covered plants here in Colorado, I’m dreaming about purple salvia in June.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Bluestone’s catalog. One thing I like about theirs, though, is that they only send it once in the winter. And then maybe again in the fall–I can’t remember.

    I adore High Country Gardens, but I find the amount of catalogs they send out (mostly with the same innards, just a new cover) fairly obscene. Too much wasted printing!

  6. I’m a combo of old-school and modern. Like you, I love having a catalog to flip through but when it comes time to actually place the order, I prefer doing it online. Probably having to do with a lot less writing and no postage. I dread the day that mail order companies decide to phase out their catalogs. Somehow surfing a website is not as satisfying as paging through a catalog.

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one who keeps catalogues (on the bookshelf) for years. Not all of them, mind you, but some and I use them as reference books. I like writing on them, sticking post it notes on pages, and then ordering on line.

  8. The heirloom seed folks love catalogue savers — albeit generally seed catalogue savers. I’ve seen pleas for copies of old seed catalogues, key elements in tracing old varieties.

    Like others, I save many catalogues and prefer to browse the paper version, but order on-line. On-line is for when you know what you want. The catalogue is for when you are open to suggestion. It’s easy to miss things you didn’t necessarily know you were looking for in an on-line catalogue.

  9. The USDA Agricultural Library in Beltsville, MD is craving those old palnt and see catalogs – and even some of the new ones! So I’ve been collecting a 100 or so and donating them there after I have them out for reference display at our annual Washington Gardener Seed Excahnge. Shocking that the USDA Ag Library isn’t automatically on all catalogers mail list.

  10. Is there anything better than sitting with a warm cup of coffee, with about 20 gardening catalogs spread out around you? Picking more new plants for your summer garden than you’ll ever need, while the snow’s flying outside, the next best thing to being in the garden.

  11. Bluestone sends excellent quality, but small plants. That said, my tiny ‘Crystal Fountain’ Clematis that I planted last year out performed some other Clematis that have been in my garden several years. Now that’s what I call a bargain plant.

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