Three Very Different Garden Catalogs
The pile of 2014 garden catalogs on my night stand continues to grow. We’ve already talked about Bluestone Perennials and Burpee. Now let’s look at three more catalogs, each engaging in its own way: White Flower Farm, Plant Delights Nursery, and Forest Farm.
White Flower Farm (WFF) is sort of the Williams-Sonoma of garden catalogs. On page two there is the genteel yet ingratiating letter from Amos Pettingill, a fine old-money Yankee name suitable for a company located in Connecticut. I do suspect that Amos’s real name is Stan Ostrowski, and that he speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent. But that’s just a guess.
WFF’s glossy pages are covered with lush, beautiful photographs. They do not have a vast selection, but they do have some very fine plants. I have ordered from WFF only a couple of times, either for varieties they were offering exclusively or when I wanted something larger than is generally available by mail order. In my limited experience, their plants arrive healthy and in excellent condition.
There were a couple of annoying things about the 2014 WFF. For example, now many pages are devoted to listing plants in groupings with no particular logic such as “Bring Back the Classics”, or “Annuals for Every Style”. I like my plants listed alphabetically. If you are going to present plants by group, do it in a way that makes sense – plants for sun or shade, for example.
Forest Farm at Pacifica (FFP) is as down home as WFF is upscale. The 240+ pages of this catalog are printed on recycled newsprint. There are some photographs, but I don’t get this catalog for the illustrations. It’s nice, though, that there are pictures of all the staff – an extremely friendly and knowledgeable bunch of people, in my experience.
I go to FFP for its vast selection of affordable woody plants. The plants are smaller, so you have to have a little more patience, though. They carry lots of species that are hard to find at local nurseries. For example, this is where I bought my fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus). The catalog has over 140 pages of trees, shrubs, and vines – and the pages are almost all text.
FFP is in Oregon, but they carry lots of natives from eastern North America. Their catalog does a decent job of providing plant information, but much of it has to be decoded. For example, of Silphium integrifolium it says: S/M (Prn) (z4) (ENAm) (ENa). You might be forgiven for thinking this means the plant is involved in some kinky activities, but actually it means Sun/Medium moisture, Perennial, hardy to zone 4, from Eastern North America, Eastern Native (those last two seem kind of redundant).
I have two gripes with FFP. First, one piece of information that is often missing is the mature size of the plant, which seems kind of basic. And two, it is odd that a nursery that seems so concerned with the environment would sell some of the worst invasives around, including Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Porcelain Vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). Clean up your act, FFP!
Finally, the Plant Delights Nursery catalog (price: 10 stamps or a box of chocolates) is in a class of its own. This is a catalog with character.
For one thing, it is probably the best written and most entertaining of garden catalogs. There are photos, but it’s the writing, comprehensive information, and fascinating assortment of unusual plants that make this catalog worthwhile. Although I have to admit the topical cartoon covers usually leave me feeling like I would probably disagree with the point being made if I could figure out what it was.
PDN seems to carry many plants that are really hard to find. For example, this was the only retailer I could locate that sells Japanese Roof Iris (Iris tectorum). Actually, this is the only plant I’ve ever purchased from PDN, so far. Many of this North Carolina nursery’s plants are not hardy in my zone, but they are still fun to read about.
The catalogs are still arriving, and I haven’t even written yet about my favorite sources for native perennials, so expect at least one more post on this topic.
Have you had experiences with these three retailers? What about other most or least favorite catalogs?