Earthly Delights: Gardening by Mail

By Diane Olson

Transforming winter blues into spring greens begins with those catalogues.
earthlydelightsstoryJust when you’ve forgotten what it feels like to dig your toes into fresh green grass or bury your hands in warm soil, the catalogs appear. Bright and welcome as a cloud of butterflies, they land in your mailbox, bringing the promise of spring and sumptuous previews of summer.

Garden catalogs provide a virtual Eden of information, inspiration and supplies at the time of year when local garden centers are stocked to the rafters with ice melt and snow shovels. You can choose from a mind-expanding bounty of flowers, vegetables, herbs, trees and shrubs, as well as equipment and supplies, and best of all, you can do it while sitting in your favorite easy chair, sipping hot chocolate and watching it snow.

A good garden catalog, like a good garden store employee, will offer lots of information. User-friendly catalogs list both botanical names and common names, and relate each plants’ specific needs (light, soil and water requirements, hardiness zone rating and growing season). Catalogs, whether online or on paper, should also provide the size and age of live plants and bulbs, note when they will be shipped, and clearly state return policies, guarantees and shipping charges.

Garden catalogs come in two broad categories: general and specialty. General catalogs offer a little bit (or in some cases, a bunch) of everything, from cantaloupe to canna lilies to catalpa trees. Some of the better-known and fun to shop general catalogs include Seeds of Change (888-762-7333;, Shepherds Garden Seeds (800-444-6910;, White Flower Farms (800-503-9624;, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (888-784-1722; and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (207-437-9301; Of those, Seeds of Change and Peaceful Valley sell exclusively organic plants and seeds.

If you’re the type of gardener who likes to home in on a particular plant, or type of plant, there’s likely a specialty catalog to satisfy your desire. Salsa lovers are likely to work up a sweat over Tough Love Chile Company (775-849-3100;, while tomato buffs will see red over Totally Tomatoes (803-663-0016; Jackson and Perkins (800-292-4769; is surely nirvana for rose aficionados, and bulb fans will light up over Dutch Gardens (800-818-3861; dutchgardens. com). Look to Lilypons Water Gardens (800-999-5459; for a wellspring of pond products, and High Country Gardens (800-925-9387; for a parcel of drought-tolerant Western plants. And if you’re searching for something sure to get the neighbors talking, check out Plant Delights Nursery (919-772-4794;, home of plants with attitude, or the online-only (, where you can order seeds for a Bible garden, a moon garden, an herbal tea garden or a Chinese medicinal garden.

Ordering from catalogs also means getting a jump on the gardening season. Knowing ahead of time what you’re planting as well as each plant’s requirements means that you can spend the gray days of winter mapping out, as well as dreaming about, your personal utopia. Plus, you’ll have your seeds (and cold hardy plants) well ahead of time, and that means you’ll be outside planting on the first warm day of spring, while your neighbors are still standing in line at the local garden center.

So rather than pine for the salad days of summer, plan for them instead. Pick up a phone and order a catalog, or get online, and transform your winter blues into spring greens.

Diane Olson ( is a dirt worshipper, project manager and freelance writer.

This article was originally published on January 31, 2007.