When the weather closes in, and the days are still short, keen gardeners still need their fix and will turn their attention to virtual gardening, browsing catalogues and planning what seeds and young plants they need to order for the year ahead. Garden companies are well aware of the vulnerable state of the human psyche during the dark days of February and time the production of their catalogues accordingly to dangle images of unnaturally luxuriant flowers and foliage under our noses.
Their clever market research whizzkids will have analysed your previous purchasing preferences and ensure that the right fruit/veg/herbaceous/bedding selections drop onto your doormat, and so the gentle seduction starts.
There is also a hierarchy of gardening catalogue relating to the knowledge of the recipient, for example, Elaine will need one which allows her to study the derivation of all the Latin names, whereas Caroline just requires one with pictures….
Personally I love the ones in which the wisdom of the nurseryman shines through and read the Chiltern Seeds catalogue from cover to cover purely for the quality and wit of their narrative descriptions of each and every seed they offer. (We’ve put links to all these dangerous sites at the end of this week’s blog post) Derry Watkins of Special Plants is another one who knows her stuff and is one of the few who is honest enough to tell you which seeds will only germinate if sown very fresh (you have to put your name down and she will send them at the right time). The descriptions of plants supplied by Michael Loftus for the catalogue of his famous nursery, Wootens of Wenhasten were so sought after that they were turned into a publication known as The Red Book.
A more millennial approach is to go the whole hog and try to sell you a lifestyle in a catalogue that is almost a coffee table item….. but the cost of all this glossy marketing and subliminal messaging is usually reflected in the price of the plants.
Is it wrong that I have been known to browse through one of these seductive temptresses to find out what’s on trend for the coming season, but then go and order the same plants at half the price from the bargain basement of plant catalogues like Parker’s Bulbs?
An unnecessary dig about my intellect I thought. In truth my creativity, of which Elaine & Laura have always been jealous, simply means I’m stimulated by visual communications (yes OK pictures).
Flicking through some of the big name brochures in February is like being an expectant mother planning dear little things for baby. But then, in April, the bawling bundle arrives and spoils it all.
So it was when I spotted Sarah Raven’s stunning combination of thunbergia (black-eyed Susan vine) and rhodochiton (it has an awfully rude nickname which can’t pass the lips of a Growbag). Both looked so charming in her catalogue climbing up spriggy hazel branches – and Sarah seemed able to knock this off while entertaining in her huge kitchen; attending plant trials; shopping for long, arty skirts and running a multi-million pound business.
Dear reader despite my own miserably small workload, mine did not turn out the same. Here in Scotland my twigs collapsed in the wind; my thunbergia died within a week and although I did become a great fan of rhodochiton (our feature picture), mine had to be withdrawn to the shelter of the greenhouse.
Apparently when I become as knowledgeable as Laura, I too will be seeking rare plants typed on dull pages of A4 by obscure nurseries which reference the intriguing angle of a plant’s bracts etc.
Meanwhile catalogues like Sarah’s or David Austin Roses are far more my thing – you can’t resist the latter’s sexy publication in which his description, for instance, of hybrid rose Roald Dahl’s ‘medium-strong Tea fragrance with dark fruit notes‘ practically transports me to Asda’s wine aisle. My rose-growing and much missed friend Bill Jamieson favoured Harkness as a supplier, but I find their paper quality isn’t as good!
I’ve noticed that ‘younger’ gardeners on Facebook are all raving about the Cotswold Garden Flowers’ catalogue this year but our Great Plants this Month aficionado Louise Sims has been a fan of theirs for decades. If you want to get ahead, become a Growbag reader!
You are absolutely right, Caroline – flicking through plant catalogues is like glimpsing the impossible dream – this year, THIS year, my garden would be perfect if it contained that clematis, this pack of new crocosmias, those roses. And though your heart knows that it’s nonsense and, more particularly, you don’t need any more plants, still you look, still you’re tempted, and still you make your surreptitious lists of little beauties, indispensable stalwarts and appealing novelties.
Here’s a tip: try not sending off your order straight away but leaving it a week and then looking at it again. Whenever I’ve done that, for at least half the plants I’d listed originally I’ve thought ‘What was I thinking of?! I’ve got no money/space/need/interest for that plant!’ Then I’ve looked through the catalogue again and made several more totally unsuitable choices. Obviously. By the time the catalogue is obsolete, I’ve talked myself out of hundreds of plants and saved myself a fortune.
So maybe I don’t participate financially very often, but by golly, I have learnt so much from these catalogues, whether on paper or online. What other source will give you so much free info about so many plants (albeit with writing as exciting as Laura at a Weird Flower Symposium). And though the pictures are touched-up to within an inch of a 1980s abuse scandal, they’re still laden with import about growth habit and form etc.
Blogs, magazines and books are great – I’m at present delighting in a little book given to me by Secret Santa at my BookClub called ‘Gardener’s Nightcap’ written in 1938 by Muriel Stuart – but for sheer up-to-the-minute knowledge of plants and the plant-world, catalogues are hard to beat. We would love to know what your guilty pleasure is – which garden catalogues make you go weak at the knees?
Here are the links to all those enticing seed and plant catalogues:
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