My Favorite Gardening Catalogues for Mail Order Plants

I cannot live without gardening catalogues. In fact, I divide my mail order plants among many retailers not just to access maximum variety and good price, but also to assure a diverse array of catalogues for bedtime perusal.  By now I know some of these catalogues almost by heart. Nevertheless, I get the same comfort from going over and over even the most familiar pages that some people get from re-reading the Bible or their favorite poems.

I was reminded of this the other day when the fall issue of the Bluestone Perennials catalogue arrived. People think of fall as the time to plant bulbs, but it is also an excellent time to plant most perennials and many shrubs and trees. And now is the time to start thinking about those orders for fall planting. Here, in no particular order, are my favorite catalogues – favorites both for the plants on offer and the viewing pleasure they provide. Links to the websites are provided (I also love looking at websites for mail order nurseries.)

Bluestone Perennials (Ohio). This is my go-to catalogue for non-native perennial favorites (though they carry many natives as well). Nice pictures, good descriptions. This retailer deserves extra credit for being one of the first to use biodegradable pots – no plastic to throw away and make you feel guilty.

Prairie Nursery (Wisconsin). These folks have downsized their catalogue, but it’s still a pleasure to read and an excellent source of Midwest natives. Plants are helpfully organized based on the environmental conditions to which they are adapted. Twice a year they have an open house and tour. My brother and I went a couple years ago, and got to meet the owner and native plant authority Neil Diboll. And how’s this for local color: the nursery is near the federal prison in Oxford, Wisconsin. The B&B we stayed at was also used by relatives of Chicago political legend (and my former Congressman) Dan Rostenkowski when they visited him in the hoosegow. 

Oakes Daylilies (Tennessee). Daylily specialists, Oakes stands out both for their wide selection and the size and quality of the plants when they arrive.

Forest Farm (Oregon).  This catalogue is substantial, almost like a phone book for a small city. Unfortunately, there are very few pictures. Forest Farm makes up for the lack of photos with an incredibly broad selection of plants. Also, the introduction from the owners makes you feel like these are folks who really love plants AND people. I’ve had good experience using Forest Farm as a source for shrubs and small trees.

Prairie Moon (Minnesota). These people are SERIOUS about Midwest natives, and they have an incredibly wide selection. Prairie Moon sells mostly bare root plants. Bare root plants have lots of advantages – they’re cheaper to ship, they’re dormant so no transplant shock, plus you often get more plant for your money. On the other hand, there’s something unsatisfying about opening a box and finding plastic bags full of what looks like dried squids and octopus. Prairie Moon does sell potted plants, but only in bulk. The catalogue features tables with key plant characteristics, but no narrative descriptions, making for a more clinical reading experience. On the other hand, there is some beautiful photography.

John Scheeper’s Beauty from Bulbs (Connecticut). My favorite bulb catalogue. Huge selection, pretty good prices, very good quality bulbs. I especially like  the selection of species tulips.

Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm (Illinois). These folks sell lots of different plants, but this is where I go for peonies. They have an outstanding reputation for developing new varieties of both peonies and daylilies, and are also well-known for their arboretum.

So what are your favorite plant catalogues? Or do you prefer to buy only from garden centers?


14 Comments on “My Favorite Gardening Catalogues for Mail Order Plants”

  1. Love Bluestone! Always have great success with their plants. I usually start my plants from seed and buy from Prairie Moon and have good germination from their seeds. I also buy seeds from Seed Savers in Iowa. Select Seeds also has a fairly good seed selection and recently selling more plants although I have never ordered the plants. I’m a garden catalog junkie, too!

  2. I love catalogs too, I’ve had great success ordering from Forest Farm (shrubs) and Prairie Moon (seeds and live plants/trays). I also love heirloom vegetable seed catalogs like Territorial Seed Company and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I don’t have a vegetable garden yet (one tomato plant does not constitute a garden) but the variety, colors, and qualities of heirloom veggies are as intoxicating to my mind as flowers are.

  3. Jason, having a nursery growers license, I have tripped across the amateur vs. professional line and have access to many of the wholesale catalogs. For natives, North Creek Nurseries, for perennials Walters Gardens, for trees and shrubs Bailey Nurseries, for bulbs Van Engelen– there are no pictures, though (the sister company of Beauty from Bulbs (Scheepers)), and for seeds Jung’s, Territorial, and Southern Exposure. I have to say all of these have great online resources for the home gardener, though, and that Perennial Plant Resource is the Walters Garden amateur site.

    The Terra Nova Nurseries Wholesale catalog is incredible and reads like fine literature for gardeners. The photography is over the top. I like the Seed Savers website and he’s working on a book this year; maybe its been published, not sure. For any hostaphiles, check out Q & Z online, their catalog is good, but again wholesale . That will give you some idea of what is available to drool over.

    • Now you’re making me very jealous since so many of those catalogues are not available to the general public. I do get Van Engelen, but for reading I prefer Scheeper’s because of the pictures. I’ll check out the Terra Nova website to see if they also have retail. So unfair if they don’t.

  4. I’m crazy about Plants of the Southwest. Lots of seeds for native plants and some good reading, as well.

    Maybe you have other readers who are High Plains and semi-arid gardeners?

    I find fall is the best time for planting. David Salmon of High Country Gardens (a great catalog for the eye-candy) has demonstrated that fall planted perennials out perform spring planted ones. My theory: it’s just less stressful when the plant doesn’t have to struggle into performance and can just settle into root development then dormancy.

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