Monday, February 21, 2011

They're Here. They're Here. They're Finally Here!

1940 Sears Christmas Catalog
As a child, I remember waiting for the glorious arrival of the "huge" Christmas toy catalog.  To take possession of this "bible of toys" in a family of four kids was no easy feat.  I would go through page by page carefully circling each new "must have" toy.   This ritual would be done at least a hundred times until the pages were curled and there were circles or X's on practically every single toy.  Well now it’s Christmas for this grown-up gardener; and instead of circling toys, I'm circling plants and seeds from gardening catalogs.

There is a sense of satisfaction when you stroll through your local nurseries.  You see exactly what you are getting with your hard-earned money.  But what happens when local nurseries do not carry that one particular plant you are seeking?  Many gardeners like myself will turn to purchasing through catalogs or online.

While buying plants through a catalog or online is a much simpler process and extremely convenient for some gardeners, many gardeners haven’t taken advantage of these options because the perceived risks are too great.  While the risk of purchasing plants and seeds from catalogs and online stores is real, there are steps gardeners can take to prevent disappointment.

Almost as good as a Sears Christmas catalog!
You wouldn’t buy a Rolex watch on the street corner of New York City.  That unbelievable price you found has a great chance of being an unbelievable disappointment.  Take the time to research that mail order or online company.  One of the most highly recommended and trusted site is Dave's Garden.   On this site you will find the Garden Watchdog,  a free directory of 7,210 mail order gardening companies. Here gardeners share their opinions on which companies really deliver on quality, price and service.  You will also be able to do a search on where to find a particular plant.

A newer option, but one I do not recommend, is to purchase plants from a third party via Ebay or Craiglists.  Here you run the risk of buying more than you bargained for; misnamed plants, plant diseases, and struggling plants are all possible with this type of purchase.

Be realistic with your expectations.    While every plant looks incredible and healthy in a mail-order catalog or a picture online, the truth is that most plants will not live up to these representations.   Know the size of the plant you will receive; shy away from those who do not clearly state the actual size.  Plants described as large can mean almost anything.

Where is the botanical name?
Do not take the catalog or online description of the plant at face value.  I've seen advertisements for blue when was the last time you actually saw a blue rose?   Be wary if a botanical name is not given. What is touted as a rare wonder may be as common as dandelion.  This advertisement for a Chocolate Vine, for which no botanical name is given, is actually a Five-Leaf Akebia vine that can be invasive in some regions.   Research, research, research. 

You've scoured the Internet and catalogs to find that coveted plant at a great price...then reality strikes when shipping and handling costs are added.  So is that small plant at a great price really worth its value when shipping and handling costs are factored in?

I always recommend buying from your favorite local nursery when possible.  You know exactly what you are getting and in the end is probably a better deal.  But when you just can't find what you want, catalog and online purchases are great options when you make good, realistic decisions.