My first one arrived on October 8, 2004, this year!!! It also is one of my favorites (“Thompson and Morgan” based in England with a United States address).  Last year I received “banana seeds” (four in the packet) from them and planted the seeds under lights in the basement in January.  Three came up and proceeded to grow fast.  By October first their leaves were seven feet long and almost 3 feet across.  They won’t survive the winter and are way too big to bring in, so I will send for new seeds but wait until March to plant them.  They grow too fast. This year they have a new one with a red stripe full length.  I haven’t decided if I will try that one.

          One bad thing about catalogs is, I buy many more seeds than I can possible grow.  An interesting thing about the seed packets is the country of origin, or where the seeds were grown, which is now required.  Many of our native plants and grasses have become more popular in Europe and now they are growing the plants and sending the seeds back to us!  If you look around the nurseries here in Lincoln you can probably find many seeds on the rack that come from the companies whose catalogs I have mentioned, and you don’t have to pay postage.

          Burpee is the catalog I grew up with.  When my mother sent in an order and said she had a child who wanted a garden, they sent me several small special packets, usually flowers. For years they had a contest to find someone who could produce a white marigold.  I waited year after year until finally in just the last few years someone claimed that money.

          Every year I try their “new”, “amazing” developments.  Three years ago it was ‘Big Mama’ tomato, a huge thick ‘Roma’ type which makes neat sandwiches as there is less liquid and more tomato.  If they and the sweet Vidalia type onion are ready at the same time, nothing can beat that sandwich.

          I keep all my catalogs in a file box until the next years arrive. This makes it handy to go back and look up some special requirement the plant has.  Spring and fall catalogs are filed separately.  Sometimes, I see a new plant in the garden center or a nursery, and I can go back to my catalogs and find out such things as “hardiness zones”, or types of soil needed, or the time of bloom.  One needs to be careful because different nurseries use different common names for the same plant.  For example, I have seen ‘Snow on the Mountain’ used for three completely different plants.  As George told you a few weeks ago, check those Latin names and order by scientific or botanical name if they give it!!

          Think cautiously about ordering nursery stock from Southern nurseries.  The plants may not be hardy here.  Some of those hardiness zones may be 8, 9, or even 10.  I do have a few Zone 6 plants but each winter after the first hard freeze I pile on a cage filled with compost and leave it on an extra long time in the spring.

          Another thing to watch out for is the pH requirement of the soil.  A good part of the eastern United States, like Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and most of the New England states, and most of the Northwest states, like Oregon and Washington, has acid soil (pH of 5). It is good sized job to adapt our soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7, down enough to please some plants.  Adding horticultural sulfur two or three times a year is required. Also it is a continuing job as our soil will revert back to near neutral or alkaline (pH of 6.5 to 7) in a short time.  Fertilizing with Miracid or similar water soluble acidic fertilizer is just not enough for most acid loving plants such as ‘Azalea” and ‘Rhododendron’.

          An interesting thing I have had to deal with is day length.  A number of plants will not bloom until the days get shorter.  Sometimes they are just forming buds when we have a freeze here in Lincoln.  “Toad lilies” and “Leonotis” (lion ears) are two examples.  This year has been late in a killing frost so both bloomed.  Most catalogs don’t warn you about this so if you like to gamble, go ahead and try!!!

          You have probably heard the stories about “Poinsettias” and their absolute insistence on very short days for at least six weeks in order to bloom.  To get them to re-bloom is a chore. They can be planted in the garden and they will overwinter with a covering of mulch. They will then bloom later in the year. 

          Catalogs help you plan!!! When it is snowing outside and you are warming up from cleaning the sidewalk, looking at those colored pictures and deciding what you will try next spring, and deciding where you will put each plant, will keep your spirit alive until things thaw out!!! I try to never let a summer go by without at least two plants I have never had before. Don’t be afraid to try something new and good gardening.