Round Robin: Winter Dreams

December/January 1996

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!