Growbag Blog

Growbags – easily seduced on dark winter nights


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.

Just add a cuppa and two (or three) digestive biscuits.

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….

An enticing packet of ‘mixed ornamental gourds’ lured me into a spontaneous purchase last year which actually turned out to be jolly good value

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.

Thunbergia – or at least what Thunbergia is supposed to look like….

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.

Roald Dahl roses – beautiful and David Austin knows how to sell them!

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.

Clematis ‘Margot Koster’ – who wouldn’t want to put a tick in the order form?

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:

Chilterns Seeds

Special Plants

Woottens of Wenhasten

Parker’s Bulbs

Sarah Raven

David Austin Roses

Harkness Roses

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

10 replies on “Growbags – easily seduced on dark winter nights”

Hooray!!! I got the jackpot!! I’m extremely grateful to you; many, many thanks. Have ordered Sarah’s catalogue already. I just wonder, whether rhodochiton (well, THANK YOU, Elaine, I do remember suggesting in the questionnaire for the English common names to be added to the Latin ones. Was that a direct translation??) might do better down South on chalk?

Absolutely LOVE ???? your blog.
Looking forward to the next one already,


That’s great, Teda – so pleased that you love the blog, and that you took the trouble to respond to our survey. Enjoy browsing through your catalogue!

Just saw the outcome of my comment. Where do the question marks behind LOVE come from ? Not from me, I had added a heart emoji .

Don’t worry – I think that’s what our WordPress publishing programme does to emojis – we know what you meant!

Sarah Ravens catalogue is very cleverly crafted, she certainly knows her onions! a visual delight, and very difficult to ignore, I usually wait until she reduces the prices, works well when buying tulips!
Have been a fan of Bob Brown for many years, and his catalogue always puts a smile on my face, Crocus do a mean catalogue, similar to SRs…..and have used Chiltern many times over the years along with David Austin’s.
Now I know Rhodochitons nickname, I really must send for one, if only to embarrass our grandchildren, when I show them around the garden.
Back to catalogues…I find de Jager wholesale catalogue an inspiring read, gorgeous photos, and lots of useful information….even Sutton’s have upped their game……

Hello Angela, some great pointers on what catalogues to go for here, and I also wait for Sarah Ravens sale before buying her bulbs – they are always great quality. The de Jäger catalogue is a new one to me and I will definitely have a look at it. Think we are all going to grow a rhodochiton this summer just to give it’s nickname an airing in front of friends and family ! Happy Gardening Laura

Cayeuz iris catalogue is amazing for colour. In Bristol I have grown Rhodochiton very successfully on an espaliered pear tree against a wall, it loves the sheltered heat and the framework to climb along, the bracts and seedheads are nice too as flowers go over.

I quite agree, Lorna – Cayeux seem to ‘invent’ extraordinary new colours in their irises, don’t they. Your Rhodochiton sounds lovely and what a great way to give it support so that its bracts and seedheads can really be seen – thanks for the tip! All the best, Elaine

Can I put in a plug for Peter Nyssen, who have an extensive list of spring bulbs which are free of neonicotinoids, meaning that bees won’t be harmed by them. Prices are very competitive too, and packaging is almost all recyclable. And have a look at Sarah Raven’s environmental policy – water-saving, energy- saving, insecticide avoiding etc. There are cheaper companies ( though her perennials are I think as cheap as most) but do they have any environmental credentials? Who wants their bulbs and plants to be a poisoned chalice for bees? Could be a subject for the Three Growbags to tackle!

Another great read this week. Thank you. The best thing about the Chiltern Seed online ordering system is the ‘Wish List’. Over a period of months I add and remove items – on a whim, over wine, late nights, weekend breakfasts. Then, usually on a wish and a prayer it gets ordered. Oh, did I forget something!

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