This time of year it seems as if the mailbox yields a new gardening catalog each time I look inside. Everything from perennials to gardening supplies to seeds of every kind leap off the colorful pages, calling out to me with “I’d be PERFECT for that shady spot in the corner”, “You don’t have anything quite like me in your garden, do you?”, and “How could you pass up a chance to grow your own organic kumquats?!” It’s all I can do not to max out my credit card buying the latest and greatest catalog offerings.
So, in an effort to help other gardeners faced with a similarly overwhelming plethora of choices, here are my five favorite free gardening catalogs for home gardeners.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – Heirloom, organic, open-pollinated vegetable seeds
Unlike the glossy catalogs from other companies, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog is printed on newsprint, is full of text, and has relatively few pictures (most of which are hand-drawn color pictures of specific plants). But don’t let that lead you to think that it’s not a quality publication – the information presented about each plant, as well as detailed growing guides for each type of vegetable, is clearer and more detailed than you’ll find just about anywhere else. Southern Exposure specializes in heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seeds, with emphasis on heritage, flavor, disease resistance, and other qualities of interest to gardeners. If you’re looking for organic vegetable seeds, look no further.
Bluestone Perennials – For a wide range of perennials
One of my gripes about other plant catalogs is that they cater to an uneducated or inexperienced public, with headings like “Stunning Blue Blooms” – but they don’t actually tell you what the plant really is! In contrast, while the Bluestone Perennials catalog is visually appealing and easy to understand, it also provides all the information an experienced gardener is looking for (e.g., genus and species, hardiness, size, sun/shade, moisture needs). Over the years, I’ve bought many dozens of plants from Bluestone Perennials and have been thrilled to find that the plants actually do look like the photos in the catalog, usually by the end of the first growing season. If I can’t find a specific plant in the local garden centers, I know that I can usually find it at Bluestone Perennials and that I’ll receive a healthy, vigorous plant that will quickly grow into just what I was looking for.
David Austin English Roses – Modern English-style roses
This free catalog (the ‘Handbook of Roses’) is more like a small book. It has gorgeous photos of over 200 of their fabulous roses, helpful tips for growing English roses in the US, and detailed descriptions of each plant, including growth habit, fragrance, size, and recommendations for where to plant it. They even include planting instructions and a guide to general rose care. I’ve found that what you see and read in the catalog is pretty much what the rose will look and grow like in your own garden – and they’re always beautiful. Each year I look through the catalog over and over, practically drooling over the new introductions and wishing that my garden had space for just a few more roses.
High Country Gardens – Xeriscape perennials
This is one catalog I buy relatively little from – not because I don’t want the plants they display in their colorful catalog pages, but because they specialize in waterwise plants that don’t do well in my moist zone 6 garden. However, if you live in a drier area, even cold locations or those at higher altitude, this catalog has just what you’re looking for. Many plants are exclusive to High Country Gardens or are introductions from their own growing program, including a wide array of Penstemon and Agastache. They guarantee their plants for 120 days and will promptly refund your purchase or send you a replacement if something goes wrong (as I can attest after having an Aubretia die within days of planting – the replacement is still thriving and even bloomed in January!). High Country Gardens is a good “go-to” source for high quality xeriscape plants.
Lee Valley – Gardening supplies
There are other gardening supply catalogs out there, but LeeValley’s is my favorite. They have so many unique, useful, and affordable tools and gadgets that reading their catalog often has me exclaiming “Wow, this is so cool!” or “I can’t believe they came up with something like that – it’s just what I need!” They seem to carry the thing you didn’t know existed but, somehow, is exactly what you’ve always wanted. Unlike supplies I’ve gotten through other catalogs, everything I’ve ordered from LeeValley has arrived undamaged and been of excellent quality. You may find similar tools or materials elsewhere for slightly cheaper, but I’ve found it’s not worth the hassle – with Lee Valley, you get what you need, when and how you need it, and with the quality you expect.
And a bonus …
Baker Creek’s Whole Seed Catalog – Heirloom seeds.
This one’s not free (it’s $7.95 for the 2015 edition) but it’s a monster – 356 pages of color photos and text that tells you everything you need to know about the plant. It includes many new and rare varieties of heirloom seed that you won’t find anywhere else (over 1,800 at last count!). This is a reference manual for the serious gardener. They also have a 212-page free catalog that’s well worth perusing.
[Editor’s Note: While I love catalogs, I also shop online for seeds. Here’s a nice listing of where to buy high quality seeds online.]
And now over to you – What are your favorite gardening catalogs? Share your faves in the comments below!