Dig It!

by Hadley Louden

The Joy of Garden Catalogs

Perhaps we all have curious fetishes. Mine is garden catalogs.

While others may curl up with the latest bestseller or the latest Internet craze, for me, nothing beats a bodacious catalog bursting with juicy photos and plant descriptions to fuel my dreams of garden heaven. Many a night has been spent tiptoeing through the tulips of my garden-to-be. While it’s always great to support our local independently owned nurseries—and nothing beats seeing the actual plants you dream about planting—the wealth of information and diversity of offerings in garden catalogs make them an irresistible resource for those of us who grow our own. March is an excellent time to order, as many growers start shipping in April.

Garden catalogs may have morphed since you last saw one: Not simply the fake color-enhanced photos with wacky common-name plant IDs of yore; modern catalogs often have excellent photography and are well-written with a wealth of current information. Seeds, tools, roots and bulbs, dormant trees, and live plants are all readily available.

If the stimulating photos don’t get you, the bounty of information, techniques, and suggestions will. Of course, all this information is available on the Web, but I prefer clutching their leafy pages with my fingers.

Some catalogs are primarily about seeds, and the best of these are keenly focused on preserving heirloom seed strains and keeping the genetic wealth of our seed stocks free from corporate monopolies such as Monsanto. Territorial Seed, for example, signed the Safe Seed Pledge, and says it does not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. Territorial Seed has one of the best catalogs for current information on evolving organic gardening practices as well as on new strains of exotic vegetables. Abundant Life Seeds is another Oregon grower offering gourmet strains, committed to organic biodynamic gardens.

Local Oakland seed provider Kitazawa Seed Company has been providing rare Asian vegetable seeds since 1917. Their catalog brims with information about the history and propagation of their extensive offerings, as well as useful cooking suggestions. Annie’s Annuals is another wonderful local grower specializing in unusual flowers.

One of the newer outfits—Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds—offers a truly gorgeous catalog containing over 1,400 types of worldwide heirlooms. “We only offer open-pollinated seeds: Pure, natural, and non-GMO,” they profess. Baker Creek is extremely wholesome, yet their plant pictures seem like garden porn and will get you salivating.

Many growers focus on bulbs, tubers, and roots. Much of this tradition dates back to the Dutch mania for tulips that caused international economic crises in the early 1600s. Nowadays, such quality growers as Dutch Gardens and Van Bourgondien continue to offer top-quality bulbs and great info about growing conditions, such as zone-hardiness and deer-proofing. While not the most affordable option, the higher-quality catalogs often have higher-quality plants.

All of these catalogs can be obtained by Googling their names and requesting a free copy on their websites. By the way, after you grow your own and save some seed, get ready for the National Heirloom Seed Exposition in Santa Rosa next September: rareseeds.com/The_National_Heirloom_Exposition.