Will paper garden catalogs survive?

Paper garden catalogs have their drawbacks, but many gardeners can't imagine doing without them.

I don't mean to be alarmist, but as I leaf though my stack of garden catalogs  -- those winter lifesavers we gardeners depend on to get us through the worst of winter weather -- I can't help but wonder how long companies will continue to print them and mail them out each year.

Maybe this is because I work in the newspaper industry, where most daily publications are in trouble because of falling circulation and ad revenue. Magazines are folding, too. Costs of print production continue to climb.

There's also some resistance to mail-order catalogs in general among many environmentalists. All those trees, gone! (Still, gardeners know that you can compost old catalogs or use them for mulch. And Marion Owen has 25 more ways to use them!)

I don't want to have to do without the wonderful catalogs I depend on. But then I'm one of those people who also prefers to hold newspapers in my hands to read them -- although I do read several newspapers online daily.

In the same way, I use paper garden catalogs for planning and dreaming, but I always order online. To me, it's just more convenient.

Still, I love to dog-ear catalog pages that contain something I want to go back to, and I like being able to make copious notes in the margins.

I completely agree with George Ball,  chairman and chief executive officer of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, he said: "People use the catalogs to plan out their gardens. Catalogs sit on bedside tables. They're placed in workrooms and carried around in briefcases. Our catalogs are battered and dog-eared long before the planting season begins."

In thinking about catalogs, there's also the issue of buying mail order versus buying local. In Anchorage, Alaska, Jeff Lowenfels weighs in on the side of sustainability -- while listing his favorite catalogs.

Still, as Joe Lamp'l notes, local garden centers in many areas may carry only the most popular seeds and plants, not those that are out of the ordinary.

I think most experienced gardeners try to do both -- support the local economy and also buy the plants of their dreams via mail order.

Want more catalogs than you've received? The Mailorder Gardening Association links you to about 100.

Even more extensive is Cindi's Catalog of Garden Catalogs.  This is a wonderful resource.

If you'd like to know other gardeners' experiences with a supplier you haven't tried before, check out the Garden Watchdog at Dave's Garden, where people share their opinions on which companies rate best on quality, price, and service.

Finally, if you've ever hesitated to order one more pack of seeds -- how many tomato varieties do you need, anyway? -- Kate Copsey of Atlanta suggests that you have a seed party and swap the extras with other gardeners. That way you get to try new things with no extra expense at all. A great idea for recession gardening.

So here's to garden catalogs -- long may they survive!

(NOTE: We invite you to visit the main page of the Monitor’s gardening site , where you can find many articles, essays, and blog posts on various garden topics.)

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