A Moment to Catalog
I have many projects to keep me busy during the winter months when gardening life is on hold, or in slow-motion. Even so, I still enjoy moments that reconnect me with the orchard and herbary.
I experienced such a moment a few days ago, on an early winter evening, when I spent pleasant hours perusing a seed catalog. Yes, I am one of these garden geeks who can dive into a seed catalog and be lost for hours, learning about new plants and daydreaming about all the possibilities.
This particular reverie into a seed catalog was prompted by a search for scented geraniums. The lemon geranium that I received from my aunt is so carefree, easily propagated and charmingly fragrant, that I wanted to see what other sorts of scented geraniums could possibly tempt me.
The impetus for this catalog search may have been scented geraniums, but I ended up with a full online “shopping cart” of seeds and plants.
A few random thoughts about seed catalog shopping:
When I mention “seed catalog” I mean both seed and plants (i.e. little potted plants). Not all species of plants are available as seeds or are easily grown from seed. Many catalogs also include a plant section. With respect to the impact of shipping on potted plants, I can report having good success a few times the last few years. Keep in mind that shipped plants generally tend to be smaller than those available at nurseries. These plants do get shaken up through the shipping experience but I personally find the slight travel-trauma a worthwhile tradeoff for obtaining unique and unusual plants. In addition to ordering interesting scented geraniums such as strawberry, apple and almond, I also ordered a unique rose-scented bergamot. These plants will be shipped in the spring (some suppliers ship live plants on particular schedules). I can already anticipate a blogpost or two about these less common plants.
I consider browsing through seed catalogs as part of the garden planning. While I do seek out specific specimens from time to time — the scented geraniums, for example — I also let circumstances and the availability of providers influence the next expansions of the gardens. Since I allow myself one significant catalog order yearly, I took advantage of this purchase to get seed packets of borage and anise with this order.
The big name seed catalogs offer plenty of pages of products but consider exploring smaller, unique garden supply providers. The boutique garden shops may offer rare, exotic or unconventional specimens for your garden. Let your search for catalogs be guided by keywords related to new gardening interests or deeper explorations of a specialty. I also ordered some lime balm and some banana mint plants; these are varieties I have never heard of before I found them in this particular catalog. Surely, more blogposts will be inspired by these plants too.
As you look through all the possibilities, be mindful of your hardiness zone. When a captivating specimen is not sufficiently hardy for your location, you can consider keeping it potted in order to move it indoors to overwinter. I also ordered a fruit sage plant that is too tender for this hardiness zone. I will thus keep it potted. Otherwise, your hardiness zone can be one of the thresholds used to whittle down the options when looking for suitable perennials.
Keep a little room for serendipitous surprises and let yourself experiment. Pick a pack of seeds that represents an unexpected choice. You know that curious plant with an interesting description you had to read twice? Get it. For me, this was clove-pink, a flower that has been used to flavour ales and wines. This appealed to me since I started including herb decoctions in my fruit wines.
If you have a keen sense of observation, you may notice that this post only deals superficially with seed catalogs. The true moral of this blogpost is that it is a useful skill to be able to justify your passion-related purchases.