Oh, the angst of the dormant months!



Having received my 7th seed catalog in a month yesterday, with almost as many perennial catalogs in hand, I have to assume that all of you are similarly wallowing in garden industry propaganda. I am also being bombarded with emails from Park Seed at least every other day, with Jackson Perkins and High Country Gardens not far behind. Old House Garden has a monthly enewsletter and even Select Seeds has joined in; they promise to keep me informed on “how to best use heirloom and antique plants in your yard or garden.”

It’s working. I’m now filled with anxiety about getting my orders in before supplies of the more unusual cultivars run out—and we’re only halfway into January. Garden writer Jeff Lowenfels wrote me recently; like many of us, he’s uncertain about the trend to web-based catalogs, but, unlike me, he’s already resigned himself to using the “webalog,” and has ideas about how online catalogs can be connected to a digital system of keeping track of what’s been ordered, how plants and seeds are doing, and general garden progress by combining them with digital calendars and powerpoint. (I know many Rant readers keep physical and digital journals, using various methodologies.)

I agree that online ordering makes record-keeping much easier; one of the few ways I keep records is through saving all my order confirmations in an email folder. But what about the actual quality of the information we get through catalogs? Lowenfels comments “the good ones have so much information of use that I am quite sure I wouldn’t be near the gardener I think I am without them,” in a column he wrote recently for the Anchorage Daily News. That’s what I’m worried about. I love the descriptions in my favorite garden catalogs, and I also learn a lot from them. I wonder if online versions would gradually become more graphic-heavy and more involved with the “order here!” part rather than the “here’s some interesting trivia about this plant” part.

As for the email newsletters, I can’t help but find them somehow annoying, even from vendors I respect. But they’re undoubtedly a necessity for doing business in the 21st century, especially for this no-doubt precarious business.


  1. If some of us are having trouble imagining the shift from paper catalog in front of the fire in January to an Internet version with the fireplace in the other room; imagine how difficult it must be for some folks to have to find time in their busy schedules to read 30 or 40 blogs every day, at least 4 or 5 coming from those guys at Garden Rant.
    Oh the times they a changing.

  2. I loves my catalogs!

    So far have gotten Dutch Gardens, Van Bourgondien, Michigan Bulb, Wayside Gardens, High Country Gardens, Jackson and Perkins, and a bunch of seed catalong sent to my Dad’s house (he died last year but his catalogs keep comin’) that my Mom saved for me. These include Jung’s Burpee, Territorial Seed Co., and Pinetree Garden Seeds.

    I may order a few of the good deals on plants (Buy $50, get $25 off) but mostly am going to get seeds this year, so I guess I’d better order early…

  3. I like ordering online too (stamps? envelopes? what?), but I would never, ever want to give up my paper catalogues! They are just too perfect for winter reading material. To deal with the online catalogues or the others that don’t give a great deal of information, I’ve been haunting Cornell’s Coperative Extension website–it is a really fantastic resource for looking up different plant varieties.

  4. I like paper catalogs to browse from the comfort of the couch under an afghan and a cat or two. I sit, highlighter in hand, and happily end up turning most entries a bright yellow. Then, after sighing over plant glamor shots and lurid prose, I sit down at the computer, enter the information on all my choices into an Excel spreadsheet and am invariably horrified by the total.

    Excel makes it easy for me to prune the list to a more reasonable sum, and easy to print out. From there, I can either fill outa paper order form and send an order by snail mail (some companies don’t use anything else), or enter the information at the purveyor’s website.

    I prefer to order online wherever possible, simply because I find it more immediately gratifying. Gardening is so much about waiting, watching, nurturing and patience that online ordering is a lovely contrast allowing me a few brief minutes of instant satisfaction. Then, order sent with a click, I can go back to waiting patiently and not so patiently for spring or the next catalog to arrive.

  5. I get several paper catalogs (guilty pleasure; bring ’em on), but not much e-mail (which I prefer not to receive at all).

    Logees is by far the biggest e-offender in my inbox. And yet I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe.

  6. Long-time reader, first-time poster here.

    I love the paper catalogs because it’s easy to read them cover to cover. With online catalogs, I never feel confident that I’ve looked at and thought about absolutely everything. It’s by browsing through the paper for Song Sparrow Farm, Plant Delights and Digging Dog that I’ve ended up with some unusual and wonderful things I never would have thought to look for on line. Once I’ve ordered on line, I just cut and paste the order confirmation into a list. No problems!

    As for the email alerts, I put up with them in case there’s something new that’s been added to a website (or a good deal). But they often show up with such frequency that they’re kind of a pain (that means you, High Country Gardens!)

  7. I would very much miss browsing through my paper catalogs (over 2 dozen so far). I use them to compare prices, pictures, etc. which is not easily possible on the computer. I try to order over the phone since I am leary of exposing my credit card on the web.

  8. I hang on to catalogs for places I’m likely to order from, but when I order I like a snappy, well-organized Web site (Bluestone’s search function is awesome), and I often don’t connect catalog descriptions with orders.

    I’m not sure what was meant by “has ideas about how online catalogs can be connected to a digital system of keeping track of what’s been ordered, how plants and seeds are doing, and general garden progress by combining them with digital calendars and powerpoint” but it sounds almost as time-intensive as actually planting things.

    Does anyone really keep detailed records like that? I’m lucky if I remembered to save plant tags before they wind up under the root ball in the planting hole.

  9. Firefly, some years I keep meticulous records of what I planted, who it came from, where I planted it (well, more or less: “Center front gravel bed” is about as specific as I get), when I ordered it, when I received it, and when I planted it. In the case of seeds, in meticulous years, I add when the seeds were started, when they germinated, and when they got transplanted or planted out.

    This year (Fall 2007 to Spring 2008) isn’t one of those years. Instead, all of my packing slips sit in a heap on my computer desk, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go at this time. This spring I don’t plan to spend any time at all on journaling or record keeping. It’s not that it’s onerous–just that I don’t feel like being organized this year. I want to just be all loosey-goosey and impulsive in the garden.

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