Call them eye candy, call them garden porn, call them what you like, there's nothing like a good seed catalog to while away a rainy or icy winter evening by the fire with a hot cup of tea, planting beautiful gardens in one's mind. Bugs never invade, diseases never strike, the flowers all bloom on time and the vegetables are perfect in the garden of the mind, nurtured by the effusive prose of the seed catalog.
Every gardener has his or her favorite company or catalog. There are catalogs one prefers for buying certain types of seeds or plants, catalogs with the most amusing prose, catalogs with the best and most tempting photos, and they aren't always one and the same.
My preferences have long been Territorial Seed Company and Nichols Garden Nursery. Both are Oregon companies (still on the locally-grown theme, yes?), and both feature varieties best suited for the Pacific Northwest.
Territorial's catalog is richly informative, with complete growing instructions in front of each vegetable section. They have a good selection of garden tools and books, without a lot of decorative flim-flam. Their seeds and plants are almost always good, though one year none of the lettuce that I bought from them germinated. I don't know if it was due to their processing, or if it was exposed to extreme temperatures in shipping. Had I complained, they would have shipped new seed, but I'd already re-seeded with packets from the prior year.
Nichols is located just a half-hour away by freeway, close enough to drive to, in a red barn-like building redolent with herbal aromas. A lovely display garden sits in back. Some years I make the trip, and some years it's more convenient to order from their catalog. The catalog copy itself is sometimes a little dry and may have more typos that one might prefer, but their selection of herbs and native wildflowers for the region is wonderful. They have some downright unusual vegetables (yacon or oca, anyone?), saffron crocus, a selection of brewing supplies for those so inclined, and my very favorite of all herbal teas, Red Dragon. Their Eco Lawn mixes are a nice compromise for people who are concerned about the ecological impact of lawn care, but don't want to give up their lawns entirely. Rose Marie Nichols McGee is the co-author of Bountiful Container, the definitive guide to edible container gardening.
This year I'll be installing some new fruit trees, so I've perused the One Green World online catalog. The nursery is just an hour's drive to the north from where I live, and the catalog features an amazing collection of fruits from around the world. Many are unusual and hard to find elsewhere. If you want to grow a medieval Medlar or a Chinese Goumi, One Green World is where you'll find them. I'll be looking for dwarf pears, cherries, and an apricot, so if I can't find the varieties I want at One Green World, I'll look into Stark's catalog, as well as checking with local nurseries.
I'll also be improving several spots with native plants, so I'll be hitting Wallace Hansen Nursery during its spring sale. There's a nice PDF plant list on their website for drooling over in the meantime.
Now if I really want a big dose of eye candy, there's nothing like Thompson & Morgan's all-color catalog. Not local, but so much fun to look at. For the really discerning who want their perennials just so, try Digging Dog Nursery. For the xeric garden and western natives, High Country Gardens is hard to beat. Their plants always arrive in excellent shape.
Ah, now if only the gardens of reality looked as grand as the gardens of my dreams!