I take a dim view of winter, and nursery catalogs are about all that stand between me and misery on many a January day. Sure, we cant grow anything this time of year, but we can plan the garden, order seeds, and dream a bit, and thats nearly as good.
While I love my local garden center, mail-order catalogs offer seeds and plants I cant find locallyand give me a chance to browse while sitting in front of a fire. In 30 years of ordering seed for our organic farm from a catalog, Ive rarely been disappointedand on those occasions was given a full refund.
Some catalogs specialize in a single vegetable or flower type, and most also offer a wide variety of garden aids such as fertilizers, tools, machines, and so forth. Heirloom vegetables have seen a major rebirth in recent yearsin part because they were developed generations ago for superior taste and nothing else. If you havent tried an heirloom variety, order seeds of the Brandywine Tomato, an old Amish favorite, and see what happens. Many catalogs carry it.
Mail-order nursery catalogs also offer a good deal of advice and information on planting, tending, and harvesting. The best also are inspiring and fun to read. A few of my favorites are Burpee, (215) 674-4900; Seeds of Change, (505) 438-6529; and Johnnys Selected Seeds, (207) 437-9294.
If you dont already get garden catalogs in the mail, or want a larger variety, ask for a listing of members from the Mailorder Gardening Association, (410) 730-9713, or visit its website at www.mailordergardening.com.
January is the best time to get catalogs and order seeds because many of the most popular varieties may be hard to find later. This also enables you to start seedlings in a sunny window or under grow lights, ready to transplant outdoors when weather permits. Herbs and annual or perennial flowers may also be started this way, and some mail order sources offer all the equipment you need for a windowsill garden.