The seduction of garden catalogs

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Our mailboxes are beginning to run over, stuffed with the latest garden and flower catalogs. The catalogs are glossy, colorful, and designed to tempt us to purchase all the goodies within! The bright, slick, colorful pictures of spectacular flowers and succulent vegetables are eye candy for our winter weary eyes! But beware, not all garden catalogs companies are created equal.

Usually it is best to buy plants from local nurseries. Plants purchased from hometown stores are often larger, and better established and less expensive than the price of plants, taxes and shipping costs from catalogs. However, from time to time you see a ‘must have’ plant that can only be purchased by mail. Many times rare plants and seeds can only be found in catalogs.

A well-known company that has been around for a long time isn’t always the best company to order from. How does a person know which company they can trust? How does a consumer learn about the reputation of a company?

There are many garden sites on the internet that rate garden mail order catalogs. One of my favorite sites is, ‘Dave’s Garden’ located at The site covers every aspect of gardening and is free to join. But the section I like the best is, ‘Dave’s Garden Watchdog.’ Based on customers comments, they rate many of the mail order companies. Gardeners from all over the US can post their positive, neutral, or negative comments about the price, quality, or condition of the plants they have purchased. You can immediately see the total number of positive or negative responses. I have been surprised that big well-known companies often have the lowest marks. Some stories from customers are horrifying!

The site includes a ‘Watchdog 30’ mail order list of companies. These mail order companies have been selected for the best selection, price, reputation, and customer service. Many of companies in this top group are small family owned nurseries. I have purchased both seeds and live plants from a couple of these top 30 companies and the merchandise has arrived in excellent condition and any problems are quickly resolved with no hassle.

In the last several years large corporations have bought up many smaller companies. They continue to print catalogs in the names of the original owners. While the original company may have once been a great place to shop, now it might be seriously lacking in various areas. Expensive plants and seeds don’t necessarily mean better plants, and cheap prices may mean small and dried up merchandise. Dave’s Garden is a guide to all these companies and is a great resource to help a consumer select the best place to shop.

Every year I purchase live plants from a major company and for the most part I have received well packed healthy plants. However, one year the plants arrived and were free from their pots and crushed and mangled. I called the company to explain I wanted a replacement. The customer service lady was rude and sarcastic and told me to send them a picture of the damaged goods. I wrote of my dissatisfaction on the Dave’s Garden site and within a day a customer representative called me and apologized, and sent me free replacements and return the postage. I thought it was very interesting that many companies must frequently review the site and reach out to make things right with their customers.

I have also made positive remarks about merchandise I have received and have gotten very nice responses from company representatives. One company asked me to post pictures of lilies I had ordered on their website, and graciously thanked me for my purchases.

When ordering plants by mail it is important to read their guarantee and return polices. In the past many companies offered a year guarantee, but several have quietly changed it to 10 to30 days! Pay attention to the size of the plant. I paid $30 (plus shipping) for a variegated grass and when it arrived I was dismayed that it was a tiny plant in a 2-inch pot! I had to put on my most powerful reading glasses to see the variegation in the leaf. I went back and looked at the item in the catalog and in small print, it indeed, indicated it was in a 2-inch pot.

Do some homework on the plant before purchasing it. Google it and learn if it likes sun or shade, clay or loamy soil. Will it spread and become a thug in the flowerbed crowding out everything else? What zone is the plant hardy in? The US is divided up into various zones. Central Ohio is between zone 5 and 6 depending on what version of the zoning map is used. Will it be a tall or short? Is it shipped bare root, arriving in a bag without soil. Most all roses ordered by mail are bare root and many perennials arrive in packing material without soil. Check on the shipping costs. I don’t order seeds from a favorite company because they charge a flat $5 shipping charge for one packet to fifty packets of seeds! I recently ordered a rose and a 6 pack of fancy Caladium bulbs and shipping was $29! (I better really love the rose!)

For me, snuggled under a blanket on the sofa, flipping through a colorful flower catalog on a cold snowy winter day, is one of life’s little pleasures. All of us are dreaming about our gardens and the arrival of spring!

PHOTO SOURCE: Adobe Stock, By Pixelot