My mailbox was frozen shut yesterday, but boy was I glad once I pried it open. Inside I discovered another ray of catalog sunshine waiting for me. There’s something so hopeful and reassuring about the pile of seed and plant catalogs piling up beside my bed while the thermometer outside my window dips below zero. I love nothing more than to pore through each and every mouthwatering catalog, even if the plants they offer up would be as out of place in my Zone 5a garden as lilacs in Louisiana. Since most of us are already familiar with the Burpee and Park Seed catalogs with their staggering Technicolor photographs and whopper flower and vegetable seeds, I thought I’d share some of my favorite lesser-known catalogs (above) well worth hunkering down with during this dreariest time of year:
• High Country Gardens (highcountrygardens.com) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes the case for alternatives to conventional turfgrass lawns, and offers plenty of plants that will look great with minimal upkeep, especially water. When it comes to native and low-work and water lawn choices, David Salman is a true pioneer. I’m excited to try their new pink cotton lamb’s ear (Stachys lavandulifolius), an amazing wildflower with a profuse display of fuzzy, bright pink flower spikes that’ll be right at home in the hard clay of my hellstrip.
• Prairie Moon Nursery (prairiemoon.com) in Winona, Minnesota, is nothing if not passionate about native plants and prairie restoration for the Upper Midwest. They are the source for more than 600 native species, from the familiar (Culver’s root) to the hard-to-find (small-flowered leafcup). I only wish I had space for all eight varieties of liatris they offer.
• Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SouthernExposure.com) in Mineral, Virginia, features more than 700 varieties of heirloom and organic seeds in addition to tried-and-true favorites, with an emphasis on heritage, flavor, and disease resistance. If only our growing season was long enough to try their ‘Whopper’ peanuts, which the catalog says are twice as big as ‘Virginia Jumbo’.
• Sand Hill Preservation Center (sandhillpreservation.com) in Calamus, Iowa, is stewarded by Glenn and Linda Drowns, “genetic preservationists that are in this for the genetic diversity of this planet we call home.” They offer more than 1,600 rare and genetic treasures—seeds and poultry—for your selection. They produce all of their eggs for hatches, tend all of their own flocks, weed and care for the seed crops, and produce about 80 percent of the seed they sell.
• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) in Mansfield, Missouri, carries one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century, including many Asian and European varieties. Baker Creek was started by Jere Gettle at the age of 17, when he printed the first catalog in 1998. The company has grown to offer 1,300 varieties of vegetables, flowers, and herbs—the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the United States—and we’re glad to call them our friends. Their breathtakingly gorgeous radishes will be featured in the Fall 2011 issue of Country Gardens.