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Sorting through gardening catalogs is heavy work

January 23, 2009 - Jessica Walliser from Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Promises, promises, promises. Open any of the garden catalogs arriving in the mailbox on a seemingly daily basis, and you’re sure to read a lot of them. Filtering through all that flowery prose to find the real potential garden gems is no small feat. Not to mention figuring out which companies are the reliable ones with good customer service, knowledgeable phone operators and quality products. It’s a lot of work to be a gardener in the winter.

I’ve had my share of bum experiences with catalog companies over the years, and I’ve learned through a lot of trial and error which ones to rely on and which catalogs to toss into the recycle bin immediately. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you and let you know what I’ll be looking for as I flip through their pages.

For foodies who like to grow their own, there is no better browse than the catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Serious veggie gardeners can spend months ogling this one. Jere Gettle, Baker Creek’s young owner, travels the world to find unique, delicious varieties of everything from “Asian Winged” beans to “Cream of Saskatchewan” watermelons.

The catalog is beautiful, and because they sell more than 1,275 selections, you will, no doubt, find something your family will love. I have met the Gettles and can promise you a positive catalog shopping experience. Details:

Next on my list is the Raintree Nursery catalog. They don’t sell seeds at Raintree; they sell fruit trees, vines and brambles. I have bought from them on four occasions and have been very pleased. Although they are located in the Pacific Northwest, their catalog lists varieties suited to Western Pennsylvania, and their bare-root fruit trees are shipped to your door at the perfect planting time.

Each package comes with specific planting instructions, and you can buy books about pruning techniques and pruning equipment from them. I plan to add two of Raintree’s paw paw trees to our orchard this year. Details:

Having not made a purchase from the Burpee seed company in about 10 years, I plan to give it a try again this year. The only reason I stopped buying from them was because I try to plant organic seeds whenever I can, and Burpee offers only about 30 organic selections.

Still, they are a quality company; so this year, I will go back, if only to buy some flower varieties. I’m a Cosmos fan, so I’ll be trying ‘Rose BonBon.’ The new plant I’m most excited to try this season also hails from Burpee. ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena is going to find a sweet little home in my front perennial bed. It looks just amazing. Details:

The Territorial Seed Co. is a personal favorite for several reasons. First, I’ve had great germination rates for years from the same packet of stored seeds. Second, they have a ton of helpful, hard-to-find tools in the catalog. But, mostly, I love them for their seed potatoes. It’s hard to find organically grown seed potatoes, and Territorial offers 10 varieties at a decent price. Details:

Flower fans will revel in the catalog of Select Seeds from Union, Conn. Their tagline is “Heirloom treasures for modern gardens,” and the catalog is arranged by use instead of by the alphabet. There are 16 pages of plants listed as “fragrant” (who knew?). Other categories include “containers,” “cottage garden annuals” and “foliage” plants.

It’s an interesting organizational method and will, no doubt, be helpful to newer gardeners looking to find the perfect plant for a specific use. They have some great, old-fashioned flower varieties that are hard to come by in other, more cookie-cutter, catalogs. Details:

And, for me, the catalog of all catalogs comes from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply. They have everything—and I mean everything—a gardener is ever going to need. Loppers, compost bins, mole traps, liquid fertilizers, seeds, plants, cover crops and live beneficial insects just barely scratch the surface.

I keep the catalog on my desk year-round (I think they put out only two catalogs a year) and am constantly using it as a reference guide through the growing season. Peaceful Valley is one of the pioneers of the sustainable-gardening marketplace, and their customer-service agents have answered all kinds of tough questions from me over the years without skipping a beat. Details:

So enjoy the winter, the Super Bowl and the snow days. Spring comes soon enough and, with it, comes plenty of thrilling new garden promises.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser, co-author of the book “Grow Organic,” can be heard from 7-8 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio’s “The Organic Gardeners.”

Read more: Sorting through gardening catalogs is heavy work - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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