Whoever said “hope springs eternal in the human breast” must have been talking about the mail-order plant business. On dreary winter days we all love browsing through mail order plant and seed catalogs, chuckling over the retouched photos of luscious produce and oversize flowers. When faced with so much temptation it takes quite a bit of willpower to hold onto your wallet. But, thinking back, how satisfied have you been with the mail-order plants you’ve bought? What percentage of them made it to maturity?
I once responded to an ad “How to Make a Fortune in Mail Order”. I received a small booklet, which I read from cover to cover in a half-hour. I remember little of what it said, except for the following rule: In selecting a product to sell by mail, choose a product that costs you no more than one-tenth your selling price. I’m reminded of this maxim of mail order success every winter when the mail-order plant catalogs start filling our mailbox.
Remember the ad for “The Royal Empress Tree”? The ad claims it “Zoooooooms to a flowering, scented, shade tree in just one season”! It’s a Paulownia, and the “offer” is a puny rooted cutting a few inches tall. We’ve all seen ads for “The Tomato Tree” and the “Fruit Cocktail Tree”, but I have yet to see a healthy example of these living miracles in anyone’s garden.
I’ll never forget the little baggie we once received from a well-known mail-order outfit; a handful of moldy roots nothing like the color-enhanced photos in the catalog. Experienced gardeners and veteran greenhouse growers know that bringing life to this handful of dreams takes skill, savvy, patience and ideal conditions.
I suggest that you’ll be time and money ahead by waiting a month or two and visiting a locally-owned garden center or greenhouse. The same plants can be found there, already growing in pots of soil, very often for less than the mail-order imitation (plus “shipping and handling”) would have cost, and much more likely to succeed in your garden.
Here’s how to make use of the many plant catalogs you’ll receive in the mail this winter. Snuggle in your comfortable chair, browse and daydream to your heart’s content. Any time you see a plant or seed you’d like to try, mark it with the highlighter and put a sticky note to mark the page. Then, when planting weather finally arrives, take your “wish list” to a local, family-owned nursery for plants you can see, feel and smell. The price includes advice from someone with a lifetime of experience on how to make them grow.
There’s a world of difference between your local nursery and giant mail-order houses. Local, family-owned nurseries are run by people who love plants. They want you to succeed, and they can probably offer better gardening tips than the FedEx driver or the UPS man. No fair calling them for advice AFTER you made your purchase from a distant mail order house or website.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.