Catalog season is upon us. Even without the old Sears and Roebuck ones that thrilled us as kids, there are others (many others) that appeal to gardeners, even if for nothing more than comic relief.

 Some of them are so laughable that anybody with one eye and half sense would know better than order any of their goods. Their editors are scammers of the highest water. 

You know the ones I am talking about. They are often printed on newsprint and have doctored-up pictures that appear to have been painted by hand. Surely, in this computer age they can do better than that.

Anyhow, some of the latest to waste space in my own mailbox are almost pitiful in their presentation. How about seeds of green beans that reach a yard long? One would feed a whole family, if they were worth eating. And then there are the trees that grow 20 feet in one year. Uh huh. They might actually do that if some spanking breeze doesn’t come along and break them over. A good rule with trees is that the slowest growing ones are almost inevitably the best, windfast and sturdy, not limber and subject to early breakage. And even if the fastest ones should be fortunate enough to grow to maturity there will, almost certainly, be all kinds of other problems inherent with them. Believe me, you will regret planting them. This is the voice of experience speaking.

Then the bulb catalogs, sent out even earlier than the bulb bloom times, about now to wit. They offer “special early-ordering prices,” that are only about three times what they are actually worth. Take it from me, bulbs have good qualities and bad ones, just like any other living thing. 

Seeds. Well, there are plenty of reputable seed companies around that mail order, but even there do some research before you order, and anyhow, what are computers for? 

How about a 400-pound pumpkin or watermelon? People who grow them for show go to all sorts of special efforts, such as daily feeding of the vines and eliminating all but one fruit per plant. It is a hobby in itself that might take your time away from other things more worthwhile. 

There are even catalogs from more upscale outfits that would seem to be reasonable. Not necessarily so. Some slick catalogs offer some shoddy merchandise, i.e. plants in little three-inch peat peats that may already be dead. They’re “guaranteed” of course. Just try getting the warranty honored. 

In short, living plants are far better purchased as close to home as you can get. That is, buy at home, where you can see what you’re getting before spending your hard-earned money.


From Poor Willie’s Almanack – Go to your local nursery or garden center during the next few weeks and buy what catches your eye. And tell them I sent you.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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