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.