Garden catalog season: New isn't necessarily better
The 2011 garden catalogs are here, offering tempting new plants. But are the new plants really better than the older ones?
While it was still 2010, the 2011's seed catalogs began arriving. I’m not complaining: So many horticultural companies either have gone belly up or are exclusively online with their inventory that I’m grateful for every catalog that finds its way to my mailbox.Skip to next paragraph
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Garden catalogs are high on my winter reading list, as they were with former New Yorker editor Katharine White. Her shrewd catalog reviews, often filled with grumbles about breeders’ obsession with the new and different, were collected as "Onward and Upward in the Garden" by her husband, E.B. White, in 1979. They still make good reading.
This year’s catalogs contain plenty of flowers that deserve a place in every garden, including many species and heirloom and open-pollinated varieties.
These are big improvements
There also are scores of newer cultivars that are stronger, longer-blooming, and more hardy and disease resistant — just plain better — than the varieties I ordered a decade ago.
What’s not to love about a daylily like ‘Happy Returns’, which blooms longer than one day? Who would want to give up hanging baskets filled with Supertunias, vigorous hybrid petunias that are everblooming, self-cleaning, and disease resistant? [See first photo above.]
For these and for mildew-resistant bee balms, asters that stay vertical without my help, and much more, I’m thankful.
Do we really need these plants?
But in the Grumble Department, I’m skeptical of any flower whose catalog description begins with “unlike anything you’ve ever grown.” Over the years I’ve learned that “unique” and “new” are not always virtues.
Hollyhocks used to be simple and beautiful and perfect for turning into floral dolls. Now most varieties have extra petals and resemble the Kleenex flowers I once made to decorate for the junior prom. Among them is ‘Queeny Purple’ [see photo at left], which not only has cluttered double blossoms but is only 30 inches tall.
It may have won an All America Selections award, but it doesn’t win a place on my seed list.