Thursday, January 31, 2008

Seed and plant catalogs and web sites = rainy day shopping

OK, Meg, you asked for it, you got it -- Janet's guide to garden catalogs and online shopping. The best thing about winter IMHO is the absence of bindweed. The second-best thing about winter is stepping into a steaming bubble bath with a stack of seed and plant catalogs to peruse. Aaaahhhhhh... Plant catalogs = porn for gardeners. I wonder how that sentence will affect our hit rate from Google searches. As usual, I digress...

Winter is a great time to shop catalogs and web sites for seeds and plants. There's not much to do outside, and it's usually too cold and miserable to cruise the nurseries. Plus, you can order bare-root plants this time of year and have them arrive early in the spring, the perfect time to plant them. I'm including only companies from which I've actually made purchases, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. I hope readers will add their favorite sources in the comments.

I've done business with all of the following companies and had great experiences:

Territorial Seed: Territorial Seed is based in Oregon, so it's a great source for varieties that do well in our cool Northwest climate. They offer a great selection of vegetable seeds, as well as flowers, herbs, onion sets, seed potatoes, and other stuff. They also sell some live plants. You can request a free print catalog from their web site, or you can browse and order online. If I know exactly what I want, I go straight to the web site, but if I'm not sure, I find the print catalog to be a great reference. If you prefer to see what you're buying, you can find Territorial Seed at some nurseries, including Portland Nursery.

Totally Tomatoes: Like to grow unusual varieties of tomatoes? This is the catalog for you! I bought from them for the first time last year, and I was delighted with their selection. If it's a tomato, they probably have seeds for it: heirlooms, hybrids, funky colors, varieties for containers... they're all there. They also have a great selection of pepper seeds, both sweet and hot, along with a few other vegetable seeds.

Rich Farm Garden Supply: I ordered some heirloom seed from them in 2006 and was pleased with what I got. They have the best selection of heirloom squash seeds I've found, plus lots of other heirloom vegetables, flowers, herbs, trees, and shrubs. HOWEVER, a quick check of the Garden Watchdog reveals a slew of complaints, including several people accusing them of fraud. Under those circumstances, I can't recommend them, but if you decide to give them a try, be careful.

FYI, I buy a lot of my seed from seed racks in nurseries, grocery stores, and discount stores like Dollar Tree and Big Lots. The discount stores don't usually have a great selection or unusual varieties, but if you aren't picky, you can get basic veggie and flower seeds for $.10 or $.20 per pack. Not bad!

I buy most of my plants from local nurseries, unless I want something unusual or I find a bargain. But I have had good luck with the following:

Logee's: Logee's specializes in tropical plants for the home and greenhouse. They have a great selection of unusual items, making their catalog fun to browse even if you don't plan to buy anything. Everything I've ordered from them arrived quickly, well-packed, and healthy. I just took a quick look at their web site while writing this entry, and already I've found an unusual citrus tree I simply must have, but I'm not sure where to put it. Maybe I should convert my bedroom into a sunroom. Their web site should come with a warning: Visiting this site is hazardous to your bank account!

Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District Native Plant Sale: This one isn't mail-order; you have to pick up your plants in person. But you can download a pre-order form online, and the prices are great! If you have a big restoration project or other need for lots of Pacific Northwest native plants, it may be worth a drive to McMinville for their sale.

Trading and other options
EBay: EBay can be a gardener's dream for both seeds and plants, but watch those feedback ratings so you don't get ripped off.

Garden Exchange on GardenWeb: Nothing brightens up a dreary winter like trading plants! I've acquired all sorts of interesting plants through trades. You say you don't have anything to trade? Don't be so sure! What's common as, well, dirt in your neck of the woods may be a rare, exotic item halfway across the country. For example, I've had good luck trading marionberry and boysenberry starts (which root by themselves when I don't prune my berries at the end of the season) with people in parts of the country where these berries aren't so common. I also trade things that I can propagate easily from cuttings--not much effort for me, and I get cool new plants for just the cost of postage.

How to avoid getting ripped off
No matter what you're shopping for, including plants, it's wise to research a new business and proceed carefully, so you don't end up with poor-quality merchandise. The best place to research garden-related vendors is the Garden Watchdog, part of Dave's Garden. Here you'll find customer comments and ratings plus responses from the companies when comments are less than complimentary.

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