Seed catalogs signal spring; stoke the imagination

By Ann Larson

Oklahoma County Extension Master Gardener

Here they come. The garden catalogs. Page after page filled with photographs of colorful plants from pristine gardens.

How can one help but fall under their spell when outside the scenery is brown and bleak? I long for the day my favorite perennials begin pushing their way up out of the bare ground or filling their branches with promising buds.

I await the snowdrops and hellebores, the daffodils and crocuses, the redbuds and forsythias, the Jane magnolias, all early spring beauties that will soon appear upon the landscape. Other tried and true perennials, invisible all these winter weeks, will follow in vibrant succession.

Ah, spring. The catalogs convince us it’s right around the corner, lifting our dreary mood and stoking our imagination.

It’s hard to resist the temptations they proffer: perfect plants with vivid blooms, larger-than-life-leaves and the promise of performance within the right zone and with the right soil, the right amount of sunlight and the right amount of water.

No signs of pests on these pages. No reminders of the calamity our weather can cause. No damage from aphids or spider mites, powdery mildew or leaf spot or the hundreds of other problems gardeners face. No pictures of petals scattered with drying winds or pummeled with hail. No leaves withered and curled against stifling heat and humidity. No reminders of the harsh realities of poor soil conditions, drought, tornados and wildfires.

From these pages we can dream; we can plan. The catalogs fortify our endless optimism as gardeners. The pictures are nothing short of perfection and they give us hope. Frilly ferns, bold dahlias and dainty daisies, colorful caladiums and ribbed wavy hostas; foundation plants, specimen plants; fragrant flowers; hardy, dwarf, tall, creepers, vines, stately shrubs, magnificent trees and seeds. They have them all! How to choose?

Each year I always try to add one new plant or cultivar, and I have found some garden gems by perusing catalogs. But I must admit, I prefer seeing new plants in person, touching them, inspecting them. I will search for them first in local nurseries before succumbing to that order form. Only when my searches fail me do I acquiesce.

I have learned over the years to order only from reliable companies, and I have learned the hard way that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. One hint: good catalogs give the scientific names as well as the common names of plants. I know what plants have worked for me in the past and those that haven’t, so I take that into consideration before putting pencil to order form.

I know my gardens will never be pristine, my plants never picture perfect, but that truth doesn’t deter me. In the waning weeks of winter it’s fun to think about our gardens and all the possibilities, and the catalogs nudge us forward.