New gardening catalogs feature several shortcuts

The Associated Press
Friday February 16, 2001

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. — Garden catalogs now brightening our mailboxes bring hopes and dreams of spring and summer to the wintry scene. They also mirror the changing needs and styles of the American gardener. 

As the pages unfold with tempting displays of flowers and veggies, trends soon appear indicating, among other things, a continued swing toward smaller gardens and the popularity of short-cuts in cultivating them. Catalogs and Web sites affect more than 15 million households, whose occupants are expected to spend an average of $140 per household on mail order gardening products this year, industry sources estimate. 

Much attention is paid to container and patio growing and compact plants to fit those needs. And perhaps most noticeable is that more and more people want to cut time. Starting things from seeds is fulfilling, but the hard-pressed gardener is willing to skip that pleasure in favor of ordering ready-to-go plants. 

Naturally, you can order both plants and seeds and the catalogs are rich with seed offerings, both innovations and a lengthening list of heirlooms. As Shepherd’s Garden Seeds catalog puts it, “With each passing year, the pace of life just seems to ratchet up another notch. Whether it’s keeping up with the kids’ sports and other activities, longer days at the office or other demands on our time, all of us are having to do more in less time. As a result many of our customers have recently requested vegetable and herb plants to help them get their growing season started.” 

Accordingly, catalogs are featuring plants to be shipped at the proper time for planting in the customer’s growing area. Typical are offerings by Shepherd’s, 30 Irene St., Torrington, Conn., 06790; Tel. 860-482-3638; www.shepherdseeds.com. For $18.95 per package, you can get one each of six varieties of tomatoes; for $10.95, one each of three varieties of sweet peppers; same price for one each of three varieties of chilies or three basils or three eggplants. A collection of all these vegetables will cost $49.45. You also can get a small watermelon called “Tiger Baby” – three plants for $10.95. 

You’re paying a lot more than for seeds, which are in the range of $1.50-$2.50 per packet. If time is important to you, think how much of it you save. In my climate in southern New York, tomatoes are started from seeds indoors in mid-March, then usually transplanted to a larger pot, carefully nurtured all the while, and finally put in the garden in late May. Ordering plants would free us of work until they arrived at the end of May. 

I tried this out in my garden last year, ordering tomatoes, eggplants and peppers ready to go from Harris Seeds, 355 Paul Road, P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, N.Y., 14624; Tel. 800-514-4441; www.harrisseeds.com. The plants were small when they arrived, but they quickly took hold and my harvest was fine. I also had good results with a dwarf broccoli called “Small Miracle” shipped bareroot at planting time by the Piedmont Plant Company, 807 N. Washington St., Albany, Ga., 31702, Tel. 800-541-5185; www.piedmontplants.com. A bundle of 12 plants cost $7.95. Piedmont features a wide array of vegetables shipped bareroot.