Round Robin: Winter Dreams

December/January 1996
http://www.motherearthliving.com/Gardening/round-robin-winter-dreams.aspx




ATLANTA, Georgia—Beguiling, shiny, and colorful, the seed catalogs flood in at this time of year. I, for one, am happy to see them come, particularly the specialty and rare-plant catalogs that keep me up-to-date on current cultivars. For many years, herbs were herbs, and the old favorites didn’t change much. Now we have ‘Berggarten’ sage, ‘Herrenhausen’ and ‘Barbara Tingey’ oreganos, and ­‘Helene von Stein’ lamb’s-ears, along with ‘West African’ basil, ‘Lemon Frost’ and lemon caraway thymes, and a whole spectrum of lavenders: ‘Betty’s Blue’, ‘Lambkins’, ‘Linda Ligon’, ‘Premiere’, ‘Sharon Roberts’, and ‘Silver Frost’. I delight in visiting local growers, who stock plants adapted to this climate, and I have all of their lists, too, but this time of year, the catalogs satisfy me.

After stacks and boxes of catalogs, some thirty years old, proved unmanageable, I got a file cabinet. Filed alphabetically by company name, the catalogs originally filled only two drawers, but this fall, I started on the fourth and final drawer. I save the first catalog I receive from a plant company, and then each year, I replace the previous year with the current year. Sometimes, I can’t bear to throw one away. I take last year’s issues to my horticulture students, who are ­delighted to add some of the more unusual price lists to their own collections.

I also look forward to receiving the Mailorder Gardening Association’s yearly catalog guide containing discount coupons from more than 200 of its member companies. The guide includes a form to record purchases, a glossary of catalog terms, and advice on how best to hold an order that arrives at an inconvenient time. To receive a catalog, send $2 to the Mailorder Gardening Association at PO Box 2129, Columbia, MD 21045.

Living in Atlanta, where May temperatures often exceed 90°F, I always request early shipments. Throughout March and April, when my orders arrive, it’s instructive to evaluate how well the plants fared with the various types of packing: shipped wet or dry, in pots or bare-root, in plastic, newspaper, excelsior, or foam.

Last year, I wanted to add to my lavender collection, so I made a table in my garden journal listing five mail-order herb catalogs across the top and twenty-six of the species and cultivars down the side. After making a check in each column for the varieties available from each source, I could see at a glance if one or more catalogs offered a certain plant. I could likewise decide whether to order the same lavender from two sources, plant them, and then note any differences. What a pleasant way to pass a rainy winter day, scheming and dreaming of next spring’s pleasures!