If you are planning to order plants from a catalog or website, here are a few tips that I've learned from past experiences. Why order by mail? I grew up watching my dad order plants from catalogs. He lived in a small town with few nurseries close by, so catalogs were the only way to get much of a selection. Catalogs and the internet offer an endless selection of plants that you may not be able to find locally. The pictures in this post don't have much to do with the words - they're just random photos that haven't fit into other posts yet. Above is 'Eglantyne' rose.
I have learned that even if my favorite local nursery (Gibson's - which is just a mile or two away from home) doesn't have a plant in stock, they can often order it to be delivered on the truck that's coming anyway in a week or two. This is a great deal, because I don't have to pay shipping, and I get a 1-gallon perennial instead of a 2- or 3-inch pot (which is what often comes by mail) for the same price. After looking at 'Summerwine' yarrow (Achillea) in catalogs all last summer, I happened upon it in during the fall clearance at Gibson's. I brought home a hefty plant for just $7.50. Above is Salvia 'Victoria' or 'Evolution' - I can't remember.
If you can't find a plant locally, it's easy to research a new catalog or internet nursery through GardenWatchdog . When you type in the name or zip code of the company, you'll find ratings of plant quality and customer service from past customers. The 'Watchdog 30' list shows the 30 top rated companies and is a good place to find a reputable mail-order company. I've been pleased with plants from Bluestone Perennials , Oakes Daylilies and Forestfarm , all of which are on the top 30 list. Above is 'Vintage Pink' double petunia.
When buying groceries with kids in tow, I'm a big fan of one-stop shopping. But I don't order plants that way. I love finding a nursery that specializes in the plant I'm craving and searching through their huge selection for the perfect cultivar(s) for my garden. These types of nurseries know just how to handle their specialty plants, so you'll get a quality, well-cared for plant in the mail. I've had good experiences with these specialty nurseries: Swenson Gardens for peonies, Joe Pye Weed's Garden for siberian iris, Swan Island Dahlias , White Oak Nursery for daylilies and hostas, and David Austin Roses for english roses. Above is 'Rozanne' geranium.
When catalogs sell out of some plants, they often substitute something similar. That drives me crazy! The reason I order by mail is so I can get exactly what I want. If you don't want subs, make sure you indicate it on your order. Try to order early to reduce the chances that your plant is sold out. Last year I ordered a 'super poppy' from Heronswood and forgot to tell them 'no subs'. They sent me two plants of a different kind of poppy instead. Although it was generous for them to substitute two plants for the one I had ordered, they were the wrong color for my garden and I had to give them away. I don't want to bash Heronswood - I love their hellebores! - but I'll be sure to write 'no subs' on my order next time. Above is 'Endless Summer' hydrangea.
Are you obsessive compulsive about color like me? While considering a plant from an online nursery, it's easy to open another tab and google the plant's name to find pictures of it in real gardens. I'm always wary of 'true blue' pictures in catalogs, because so few plants are actually blue. If you see a blue rose, tulip or daylily offered, be aware that it will be lavender in real life. Although siberian irises can be true blue, you can see that the 'Blueberry Fair' flower above is actually blue-violet.
Finally, remember that the prettiest catalog doesn't necessarily have the best plants or best values. I order something every once in a while from White Flower Farm so they'll keep sending me their luscious catalogs, but I can often find a better value elsewhere. Van Engelen's paper catalog doesn't include any photos (though their website does), but their bulb prices are amazing. I hope these tips help make your mail-order experience better! If you have some words of wisdom, please leave a comment to share. Above is Forget Me Not (Myosotis), which is a very true blue.