Hartley Magazine

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In Praise of Paper Catalogs

Polystichum ‘Bevis’ celebrates the cover of the Anniversay catalog

Right now, my breakfast table is piled with gardening catalogs for my reading pleasure. And yet, I must ask—in this digital age, why do nursery folks continue to go to the time, trouble, and expense to put these colorful collections of plant offerings into my hands?

“Our customers aren’t futurized,” one nursery employee wryly notes when I ask this question about the quirky Plant Delight Nursery catalog. I assume that means some gardeners aren’t comfortable with online ordering. But what else does paper deliver?

I ask a home gardener. “I buy more plants,” says Phyllis Helland, who grows both ornamentals and vegetables. “As I turn the pages, I see things I hadn’t been looking for and stop to read about them.”

Learning about plants you didn’t even know existed is a valuable educational component. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds’ enormous 2019 Whole Seed Catalog reads like an encyclopedia of vegetables from many purveyors. Leah Schreurs, at their customer service, tells me that the owners aim for their catalog to be saved and used as a tool—especially in schools.

Seeds and veggies are in abundance.

There’s also the tactile experience which only comes with paper. Michael Marriott, David Austin Roses Ltd. technical director and senior rosarian says that for their customers, “the website is no substitute. They refer to David Austin’s Handbook time and again all over the world, on dark winter evenings, taking it to bed with them, dreaming of next summer’s roses.” He notes that the bonus pull-out “Index by Colour” is especially useful and doesn’t appear on the website.

So, print catalogs maintain an important connection between gardeners and plants. This year, Gossler Farms Nursery updated their rare and unusual plants website, but they also published a 50th Anniversary Edition. Roger Gossler tells me, “We get a very high response rate from our paper catalog.” He says that even when visitors arrive in person to the nursery, they often carry their dog-eared and marked-up copies. Roger concludes, “We wouldn’t have the business we have without paper catalogs.”

Colorblends wholesale catalog is loaded with ideas to borrow. (Courtesy Colorblends)

Other favorites from my breakfast table:

Annie’s Annuals and Perennials – The floral power is terrific.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs – With a huge collection of minor bulbs, I learn about old-timey and new varieties.

Colorblends – Wholesale, but totally educational, with gorgeous photos.

Logee’s – Most plants here are greenhouse denizens in my Zone, but fragrance is always a joy.

Territorial Seed – I want to buy every vegetable. How many kinds of garlic do I need?

White Flower Farm – Warning: Descriptions will arouse a serious case of plant lust.