Adding variety to your garden via mail order

By Melanie Mathieson
The Gardening Guru

Gardening season is just around the corner, so I always use the last few days of winter for some garden planning.
One of the best ways to plan is by using seed catalogues. There are many mail-order seed and plant suppliers in both the United States and Canada, so the number of catalogues you can use for reference is unlimited.
If you do not receive seed catalogues directly, the December/January issue of “Canadian Gardening” has an annual listing of reputable mail-order gardening business you can contact. You also can use the Internet to check for links from your favourite gardening sites or look for the advertisements in other gardening magazines.
So get those catalogues out and start dreaming about this upcoming growing season and the great garden you will have!
Mail-order seed catalogues are a useful tool for any seasoned gardener. For instance, you can use them for references about plants (the best catalogues give lengthy descriptions for each plant and its growing needs).
The catalogues feature the traditional seeds and plants, along with new varieties, most often with photographs, so they are very useful for garden planning.
Keep your catalogues year-round as a good reference source if you have any questions about a certain plant.
Ordering from a mail-order plant company is a good way to add varieties, which are not available locally, to your vegetable or flower gardens. If you would like to order from a company, just make sure they have full contact information and guarantee their products.
Do not order from companies that you only can mail in the order and cannot call or contact them any other way. And do not fall for the gimmicks the non-reputable companies use, like a whole garden for $19.99 or win $100,000, etc.
The products from these companies usually is very poor and they will not refund your money if there is a problem. So stick to the mail-order companies that have been in business for many years, and offer a good quality product and a guarantee for their products.
I’ve ordered some great varieties of vegetables from mail-order companies in the past, usually seeds that I have not been able to find locally.
Some of my favourites have been yellow beets, beet greens (these seeds produce a large green and then late in the season will produce a small beet), patty pan squash (a small yellow summer squash), and, my personal favourites, purple/blue potatoes and burgundy beans.
Some other fun varieties to try if you have young gardeners in the family are Easter egg radishes, which are a variety of the Belle radishes that randomly grows in different colours ranging from white, pink, and red to dark purple (these are very fun for kids to pick).
The “Thumbelina” carrot also is fun for kids as it grows round instead of long, or try beans, Swiss chard, and corn that come in different colours than the traditional ones we are used to.
Have you ever tried growing pink or blue popcorn?
You also may want to check out the different varieties of sunflowers or gourds available on the market as they also make great kid-friendly garden projects.
As well, mail-order catalogues are a great way to add the latest perennials or other plants as they become available on the market. Often a plant grower will “debut” a new variety with a selected mail-order company the first year, then will distribute to nurseries for the next growing season.
That is the reason why our local nurseries do not always have the new plant that you saw in a catalogue.
This is a great way to get something unusual for your garden ahead of your friends.
An added bonus is that you may be able to get seeds, which are very economical, and you can grow them yourself or you may order a plant already established.
I often will order seeds of perennials that are not necessarily rated to grow in our zone. By ordering seeds, you are not spending a lot of money on a perennial that may not make the winter.
Some perennials in the higher zones, like some of the varieties of bamboo, pampas grass, other perennial grasses, and lavenders, make great annual plants in our zone.
If you plant the seeds like annuals, you will get some great results for little investment—and have fun in the process.
Some plants are just not available on the open market. Many of my varieties of bearded irises, for instance, have been mail-ordered.
I have more than 30 varieties of irises now in my gardens and many of the varieties are exclusive to certain companies or iris growers.
If you have a favourite perennial flower, there probably is a grower for that flower in Canada. There are some growers that just grow hostas, day lilies, lilies, canna lilies, irises, and roses, and these growers have many varieties for you to choose from.
Also, some companies are formed to just distribute special hybrids of plants. Originally, Morden roses (hardy to Zone 2) only were available through one company but now are readily available, but some other plants remain exclusive to one company via mail order.
Ordering through mail order can be a great way to add some unique plants to your garden, try some new vegetables or herbs, or get some great gardening supplies or tools not available locally.
Just make sure the company is going to ship your product at the appropriate time (seeds can be mailed any time, but seed potatoes, bulbs, and live plants must be shipped after the danger of freezing is over).
Fall bulbs must be shipped in time for you to plant them.
Whether you use your seed catalogues strictly as reference material, the pictures for garden or landscape planning, or as a great source to find unusual varieties of plants, you can spend hours looking at the many catalogues available today.
So chase away the winter blues–think spring and curl up with a seed catalogue. You’ll be glad you did!

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