Catalog Review: Forestfarm

Until this year, the Forestfarm catalog looked a lot like the phone book for a small city. This was a testament to the Oregon nursery’s incredibly vast selection of plants, especially woody plants. For me, Forestfarm has been the place to go when I had to buy a tree or shrub that could not be found at any local garden center.


This year, however, the catalog has been radically downsized. In terms of printing and mailing costs, I’m sure this move made sense.

However, the smaller catalog does not mean a more limited inventory. While the catalog contains only the more popular items, the full selection can still be found online. The Forestfarm website is here.

I will miss the old catalog, though. It was sort of the horticultural equivalent of War and Peace.

Forest Farm Nursery
Newly arrived Fringe Trees from Forestfarm, April 2013.

Neither the old nor the current catalog are glossy or gorgeous. Printed mostly in black and white on newsprint, this is not a catalog that seeks to seduce the gardener into making purchases. Though I should say that there are several pages of attractive color photos.

I appreciate the brief narrative descriptions of the plants, which often contain quotes from well-known plantspersons.

Over the years I have purchased a number of plants from Forestfarm, including American Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus), Clove Currant (Ribes odoratum), and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). All arrived healthy and were packaged with extreme care. All are doing well, except for the Flowering Dogwood, which perished in last year’s extreme winter (and I realize I was playing zonal roulette with that purchase).

Clove Currant
Clove Currant in flower

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you will not be able to get the same size tree or shrub as you would buy in a nursery. Many are available only as 1-2′ striplings; the largest size available is generally 4-5′. So you have to be willing to exercise greater patience until the time when your new woody plant becomes an impressive specimen.

Judy sometimes complains that I’ve only inserted a stick into the ground when I tell her I’ve planted a tree or shrub..

What’s your favorite source for woody plants? Do you have the patience to plant very young shrubs and trees?

36 Comments on “Catalog Review: Forestfarm

  1. Thanks for the review of Forest Farm. I’ve not purchased from them before but have visited their website on many occasions. I do buy a lot of plants from mail order and I’ve purchased a handful of trees. In general, I’ve pretty much decided that unless it’s a VERY special tree, I won’t buy it mail order. They are just too small. Sadly this really limits my selection because I find that nurseries here don’t have a lot of imagination. And on two occasions—with a ‘Venus’ dogwood and an Acer japonicum Acontifolium—I’ve broken down and bought online only to find them suddenly available (at much larger size) a year later.

    • Well, it only makes sense, if you’re impatient you’re going to want to plant larger specimens. Also in your location I would think you are within an hour or so of a lot of good local nurseries.

  2. I love that clove currant…..and am laughing away at the old War and Peace catalogue……we have lot’s of those here!xxx

    • That does make sense. Living in an older suburb we also have a lot of mature shade trees. Still, there are places where small trees and shrubs are needed – especially where I have removed invasive exotics or others I just don’t particularly like.

  3. If I want a shrub or a tree I go straight to our local nursery and buy the largest one I can. Having a stick arrive in the mail would torture me, although I did settle for a sticklet when I ordered my diervilla lonicera. I rarely buy from the west coast nurseries because the shipping is so pricey and the poor plant is in a box for a week. But Forest Farm is an excellent resource.

    • I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but sometimes I get my heart set on something I just can’t find in the local garden centers.

  4. I wasn’t familiar with Forest Farm. Thanks for the reference. Generally, I head to local nurseries. We ordered our Meyer Lemon online, but obviously that’s a potted plant that we can’t find around here. I’m curious about Forest Farm’s inventory and prices, so I’ll check it out.

  5. Economics dictate that we usually start with fairly small specimens. When I look around, I am startled at the size of many of them (have that many years truly passed?).

  6. I’ve perused their website many a time, but haven’t bought anything as I’m usually looking for bigger specimens, being the impatient gardener that I am 🙂 If there’s something I couldn’t find anywhere else, I would buy it there, though. Their inventory list is amazing! I’ve been lucky enough to live decently close to local nurseries with large varieties of trees and shrubs, so I usually buy there. The only time I’ve mail-ordered a tree was a Sparkleberry from A Nearly Native Nursery, and they were really great.

    • I definitely understand the appeal of bigger specimens. I did splurge when I bought our ‘Golden Raindrops’ crabapple this year. Never heard of Nearly Native, sounds interesting.

  7. I have a major crush on Forestfarm, I wish I could say that I’ve been there, but it’s just a bit too south for me to get to easily. They seem to be a force for good in the plant world and I am happy to count them among our partner nurseries.

  8. I always order fairly small plants and have found that patience pays off… they seem to root in quicker and better and adapt to the conditions more easily than larger ones – provided I water regularly! Are you planning to order anything from this catalogue this year?

    • I think you are right, the smaller plants don’t have the same immediate gratification but you end up with a healthier plant in the long run.

  9. I almost always purchase small sticks and tiny shrubs. For one thing I can’t afford much else. Another thing every time I splurge on a large plant it seems I lose it. So it goes here. I am surprised that plants that are born and raised in the Pacific Northwest do so well in your area. It would seem to me that a nursery in a colder climate might have woody plants that adapt better in your climate. What ever works for you though. One doesn’t know unless one tries. It is nice to know that their stock does well for you. That would make me think I could get some things for my garden there.

    • The species I ordered are safe in my hardiness zone, even if they come from balmy Oregon. The exception was the flowering dogwood, and that one died. You are right that one of the downsides of a big plant is that you take a bigger risk financially and emotionally if the plant doesn’t survive.

  10. I have never purchased anything from Forest Farm before, but I have often visited their website; they certainly have quite an inventory! I’m not getting any younger, so I’m pretty impatient when it comes to trees and shrubs and usually buy from local nurseries. I have to be careful where I plant “sticks” in the ground or my husband will eventually mow them down:)

    • It is certainly more satisfying when you buy a larger specimen, especially if you want to use it for screening, as was the case with the last crabapple we bought.

  11. Funny story – Forest Farm sent 6 boxes of catalogs to the garden where I work. There were enough for each employee to take one for themselves and two for their family. We contacted them to let them know about the mistake, and were told we were sent that many on purpose. They printed too many and were trying to send them to places they thought could hand them out. Sad to say, all they did was pay good shipping money for us to put all but two catalogs into the recycle bin.

  12. Jason, your review of garden catalogs has caused me to ponder a bit. I just received the White Flower Farm Catalog and it is so different from what it used to be. If I hadn’t read the cover, I would swear it was from Wayside Gardens. The format is the same, the look is the same, and the detail is the same. Perhaps they both share the same producer/publisher. It is a disappointment, because when I first began receiving the White Flower Farm catalog, I was new to gardening, a ravenous reader of garden books, magazines, etc. and the White Flower Farm catalog was a major resource for helping me learn about plants, particularly perennials. Each plant was thoroughly described with cultural aspects, companions, etc. I kept them on file over the years and they served as a encyclopedic resource. Alas, time and expense seem to have caught up with it. I was, back in the 80’s, able to visit White Flower Farm and it was a memorable experience. White Flower Farm is a marvelous mail order nursery; my experiences have all been good ones. But I do miss their old catalog.

    • I ordered from WFF years ago, then stopped for some reason. They remind me of Klehm’s in that they charge premium prices for premium plants.

  13. Forest Farm, in my opinion, is one of the very best plant nurseries. I have never lost a woody shrub that I have purchased through their catalog or website. You’ve made me a little fired up for spring!

  14. Forestfarm is a favorite of mine, I can lose myself for hours on their website, and end up planting and replanting my garden five or six times before I realize I have little room left for woody plants…

  15. I too like to purchase from Forest Farm. THey are a terrific resource and often have what I can’t find elsewhere

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