Give Us Glossy, Please


In this peculiarly awful winter, when the usual dirty snow/ frozen ground depression is melding with economic depression, a little glossy paper and some stunning photography really lift my spirits.

Of course, most of the magazines arriving at my house look as if they are on death row–skinny, no ads, many articles advertorials in disguise.  House & Garden, my favorite shelter magazine, was put out of business over a year ago.  Conde Nast decided to run out my subscription with the awful Domino, which has now suffered House & Garden's fate.  So Conde Nast is currently running down the clock by mailing me Self, which will probably go out of business before we finish our relationship in May.  Self!  Boy, that's a long, strange trip from Jay McInerney's delightful wine column.  At 48 with three kids, demanding clients, a book contract, a big vegetable garden, three hens and four goldfish wintering over in the basement, I am in the wrong demographic.  No Time For Self, I'm the target market for that publication.

So the arrival of two ridiculously glossy and gorgeous catalogs in the last week has buoyed my spirits.  First, Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery.  The high degree of specialization in this catalog is really nice–a huge selection of peonies, some of them bred by Roy G. Klehm, as well as clematis, hostas, magnolias and a few other things.  As to how they can afford to mail out such a thick book to someone like me, who's never ordered from them before, let's just admit that the tree peony that appeals to me most, 'Baron Thyssen Bornemisza,' costs $225.

The greater mystery is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, whose catalog I requested on Amy Stewart's recommendation, even though I am a loyal Fedco customer.  But I have to admit, Baker Creek has won some of my business with its mind-blowing selection of seeds from all over the world.  I'm a mad experimenter in the vegetable garden and sought seeds from Italian and Indian sources this winter.  Now Baker Creek makes me wonder why I bothered.

And the catalog is so gorgeous, it deserves at least a week of bedtime flipping-through. 
I'm assuming that all of the catalog's amazing photos are owner Jere Gettle's work, since that's certainly suggested  by the photos on his website. As to how they amortize 150,000 copies of this beautiful book over $1.50 seed packages–well, I have no idea, but I do think a Rant interview with the adorable young Gettle family is in order. 


  1. This isn’t particularly garden-related, but I just had to say you so captured my feelings exactly when you describe why Self just isn’t for you, I had to laugh.

    And I’m glad you found an escape from the gloom.

  2. *Sigh* Nothing is more dreamy to look at than catalogs like White Flower Farm. I just wish it got cold enough to grow peonies where I live, as they are my favorite flower.

    Three kids, all that work, pets, a garden and you have time to bathe, let alone read Self?

  3. PlantingOaks, my local nurseries sell unnamed varieties for about $30 a pop. They’re not as beautiful as the ones Klehm is selling–and I sometimes feel that all tree peonies are stupid plants, given that the flowers last exactly two days and always look ridiculous in a mixed border.

    But they seem to do really well in my sandy soil. So mine are here to stay. And people on the street do gasp at them for the 48 hours that the blooms look nice.

  4. Old Kim — hahaha! your comment made my day! On topic: That was too glossy. Feels like too good to be true. Thanks for sharing this post. Too catchy — try to check that on the local newstands.

  5. We received the Baker Creek catalog, two of them actually within a week, and could not understand how they can publish such a quality book and still make money. I had to order just to help them out, even though I am awash in seeds.

  6. My husband and I have wondered the same thing about the Baker Creek catalog! I pore over their incredible technicolor selection much like I did the toy catalog as a kid, highlighting and starring and circling the items I covet most.

  7. I too ordered Bakers Creek Catalog on Amy’s recommendation.I drooled for a week.Now my order is ready,I think.Maybe I need to look through it one more time.Maybe I can make room for just a few more veggies.;-)

  8. Funny, I got two also! But I love the catalogue – very inspiring. And in this winter of bad news, its taking a lot to get me inspired.

  9. I have been ordering from Klehm for years and have heard Roy Khelm speak many times and have visited the nursery. Talk to Roy sometime about the years that have gone into breeding a peony and then raising enough of them to sell. Often the higher priced items are new introductions. Wait a year or two and the price comes down. They are a multi-generational nursery that delivers large size, healthy, high quality plants, along with integrity, honesty and great color photos.

    One year I ordered 3 martagon lilies late in the spring from Klehm. I got three cardborad boxes about 5 ft. tall delivered to my house. They opened along one side almost like a door. Inside each box was a Martagon in full bud. Not a bud or leaf had broken in shipment. I don’t care what they charge, I will pay it. I was so impressed I wrote them a letter praising their staff — who were so pleased at the acknowledgment that they turned around and sent me a box of chocolates!

    PS — most Khelm peonies bloom the first year which is rare in the industry. And, no, I am not on the take for these comments. I love those guys!

  10. Baker Creek must be sending two catalogs to everyone this year! I’m going to pass one along to a friend — not a bad marketing tactic on their part, really, if they think that’s what most of us will do. Because honestly, who can hold that catalog — a work of art — in their hands and not want to place an order?

  11. I bought an unnamed tree peony last year at a local garden store. I was suspicious at the $25 price, but it looked healthy. I hope it blooms this year!

    I also love the Seed Saver’s Exchange catalog. All those beautiful vegetables. I have kept a SSE calendar from, oh, the mid-nineties, because someday I’m going to choose some pics and frame them!

  12. I have a question: is there such a thing as a garden porn re-hab centre and if so, isn’t it high time we all checked in? 😉

    It’s amazing what a few garden porn pics will do for the soul, isn’t it? Especially on dull grey winter days in February.

  13. Baker Creek is amazing. In addition to the stunningly gorgeous catalog, the fine folks at Baker Creek also sponsor an heirloom gardening forum where members teach each other how to save seeds, thus reducing the amount of seeds they will have to purchase in subsequent years, and where members trade seeds, also limiting purchases. I have no idea how they stay in business, but I’m so glad they do.

  14. Wow! I got two too (or should that be too two?) and promptly gave one away to a friend. Now if I could just cut down my Want List to reasonable, I could get my order off. And — their shipping charge is only $3.00, where some places whose names I won’t mention charge $7 or so for a seed order!

  15. I found Baker Creek on a web search for MO. I live in Arnold on the other side of the state. Funny but with snow on my greenhouse/homemade old windows germinator I found you talking so nice about them. They were out of catalogs but I ordered seeds anyway. Some have popped up and some have not but this is the first year of my contraption and it needs more heat. I bought Reisentraube for my wife who lived in Germany. Thanks for the info.

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