Seeds and plants by mail order: It’s not too late!

Cotwold Garden Flowers catalogue with too may plants tagged for ordering! ©
Easy online ordering is a huge boon, but there’s nothing quite like scanning printed catalogs by a winter fire (or in the smallest room in the house) and tagging the tempting plants. And it's too late to order for the coming season.

And you can see from my post-its marking the must-have plants in England’s Cotswold Garden Flowers plant catalog just how many tempting plants there are!

Owner Bob Brown has a fine eye for a good plant, picking out the best of the old favorites, the best newcomers and landing his eye on undeservedly neglected species. Bob also breeds new crocosmias, kniphofias, aconitums, and other plants and his son Ed has some developed some intriguing new Sambucus (elder) varieties.

One of those tags marks a rare hardy (zone 6a) climbing tuberous perennial cucumber I remember from Kew decades ago and have always wanted to grow - Thladiantha dubia. No edible cucumbers unless you have male and female plants, I’m afraid, but well worth growing for its yellow flowers.

And one of Ed’s elders will definitely go on the order: ‘Gate Into Field’ (!) is described as: “A very vigorous elder hybrid, very large heads of pink-flushed deliciously scented flowers later than normal, July – September, dark pink flushed foliage with pale midribs.” OK, it grows to 5m… I’ll just have to knock down the shed to make space, I suppose. Order going in just before I post this – so you don’t grab the last of the plants I’m ordering before I do!

The Whole Seed Catalog for 2017 - with only the flowers tagged! Image ©GardenPhotos.comThe order to Missouri's Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, who produce the extraordinary Whole Seed Catalog, has already arrived. The catalog is focused on its vast VAST array or heirloom edibles with a smaller section of flowers in the back. The tags only mark the flowers that appeal; I’d already taken out all the veg tags.

Have to say, this is the most astonishing catalog that I’ve ever seen. OK, it costs $9.95 (there’s a smaller free version). But there’s over 350 full color pages packed with goodies. Tomatoes, of course, feature strongly but there are also forty nine different lettuce varieties including the superb red leaved cut-and-come-again lettuce ‘Merlot’. I grew this last year and have ordered it again. It’s deep deep red in color, cuts for many weeks, tastes great and didn’t bolt. The three foot long Armenian melon from the 1400s is quite something, too.

I’ve also ordered the tall double America/African marigolds intended for cutting – never seen those before – and they also have some superb cut flower zinnias too.

Two oh-so-very-tempting catalogs. Here are the details.

Cotswold Garden Flowers
Order a fee printed catalog 
Order online
Plants can be sent to most of Europe but not North America

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Order The Whole Seed Catalog
Order a fee printed catalog
Order online
Seed can be sent anywhere in the world but they make it clear that sending seed to Europe is expensive and difficult.

Two essential plant catalogues 2: Cotswold Garden Flowers

Cotswold Garden Flowers,catalog,2011,Bob Brown. Image ©Cotswold Garden Flowers In Britain, one catalogue stands out for its committment to bringing us excellent new introductions, thoughtfully chosen plants from way back – and strong opinions. For in his Cotswold Garden Flowers catalogue, Bob Brown not only releases his own new plants plus those of other top breeders on both sides of the Atlantic, and chooses the best of all the rest, but he rates every plant in the catalogue. He gives each plant marks out of ten!

Now, of course, you won’t find any with only two or three marks, though there’s an elder rated only 3.5. A few plants escape rating but almost everything in the catalogue is rated 7 or more, with quite a few starring at 10 out of 10. “A score of 5 is average – it’s OK,” says Bob, “6 is nice, 7 is good, 8 is very good, etc. I welcome argument.”

The 10-out-of-10s include three agapanthus, two agaves, a bergenia, two brunneras, two cannas, a chrysanthemum, three crocosmias, an echinacea, three hellebores, two heucheras, no hostas, two kniphofias, a meconopsis, an Oriental poppy, three primulas…

Bob loves, and breeds crocosmias; three get top marks and, out of 13, ten get 9, 9.5 or 10. Same goes for kniphofias, two are rated 10. The picture below shows the throwouts from the breeding programme. And his son Edmund’s enthusiasm for elders is revealed in the collection of 46 (yes, you read right, 46 ) different types. Though none rate a 10, there are many specially selected for their fruit production.

Some plants are praised in a single word to go with their 10 out of 10: “amazing” (Helleborus ‘Bob’s Best’), “fabulous” (Papaver orientale ‘Snow Goose’). Others get a sparky phrase: “you (or more likely your spouse/partner) need mental preparation for its irruption” (Clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’).

On the nursery’s website, you’ll not only find the text of the catalogue, but a record of Bob’s ratings for a huge range of plants that did not make it into the catalogue or are still being assessed:
“Small mounds of crinkled dark green glossy foliage as if suffering an aphid attack... Died - unknown reasons’ (Ajuga pyramidalis ‘Metallica Crispa’)
“Destroyed - not good enough.” (Vinca major ‘Jason Hill’)
“Easy. Most visitors are more enthusiastic than I am. (Died of old age).” (Potentilla ‘Melton Fire’)

And although this is all very amusing, it’s important to remember that with Bob’s experience, his fine eye for a good plants, and his inability to prevaricate for the sake of a sale you can trust what he says.

A visit to the nursery is a treat (check the website for details), as is the catalogue (don’t throw away the old ones). Bob Brown’s plants are also on sale at a range of plant fairs.

* Cotswold Garden Flowers will ship plants to the rest of Europe, but not to North America.

Cotswold Garden Flowers,kniphofia,breeding,Bob Brown. Image © (all rights reserved)

Two essential plant catalogs 1: Plant Delights

Plant Delights,catalog,2011. Image ©Jack Pittman and Plant Delights Two of my favorite mail order plant catalogs arrived in the mailbox recently, one British and one American. They’re both great fun, and both full of great plants. First, the American one. Next, the British one.

Plant Delights Nursery, and its mail order catalog, are crucial to American horticulture. They take on added importance after the loss of two important smaller nurseries – Asiatica and Seneca Hill Perennials. Tony Avent, the boss at Plant Delights, chooses good new plants, and some old ones, and then launches them into the horticultural world with a few choice phrases – and a cartoon catalog cover by Jack Pittman… the latest featuring a Facebook parody.

But the fun and humor is an overlay above a keen eye, an astute assessment of what is, and what is not, a good garden plant, and the willingness to give anything a try. Calocasias hardy in zone 7 (colder than England), hostas and epimediums bred at the nursery, thoughtful picks from breeders of dianthus, echinaceas, heucheras, hellebores and many more, a mass of new Asian Polygonatum selections, the first yellow-leaved buddleja…

There are plants from across the Atlantic of course, including a purple-flowered hardy gladiolus: “When I first saw this in the UK at Cotswold Garden Flowers, it was not in flower, but I was intrigued at the thought of a hardy purple glad, so I bought one on faith… and MasterCard… This vigorous grower is simply superb.” The Cotswold Garden Flowers catalog will be featured here next.

Everything in the catalog is trialed at the nursery’s garden in North Carolina. Having visited the garden and nursery last fall, I can testify to the impressive set up and mass of intriguing, and not always fashionable plants being assessed. How many variegated aucubas are you trialing, Tony?

There are some oddities – “You want strange...can you handle strange? If so, we've got strange!” Tony says about a new yellow-banded Liriope – and I know some gardeners feel he’s a little optimistic about what’s hardy and what’s not. “I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself… at least three times,” he says.

But be assured this catalog is packed with good plants - and it’s fun to read.

Check out the Plant Deights website, order a printed catalog (and never throw it away), and take a look at the vast range of plants introduced by the nursery.

* Plant Delights will send plants to Britain – but look over all the details carefully before ordering.

Another fake plant picture

GeraniumDoubleJewelVM OK folks, another catalog picture horror for you. My wife judy tells me that bashing on about faked up plant pictures in catalogs is getting tiresome. I don’t agree, but in the spirit of marital harmony I’ll just feature the sillier of the two I had planned for today (here’s the other). This is from the latest UK catalogue from van Meuwen.

But first let me say that just because the pictures are misleading, it doesn’t mean the plants are rubbish, it doesn’t mean that perfectly natural images couldn’t show what good plants they are. This is a good plant - just don’t expect it to grow like this.

Geranium ‘Double Jewel’ (click the image to enlarge) is a lovely double flowered form of the meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense. It’s a little shorter than most forms of this species, which can reach 4ft/1.2m in height, but here the crown of the plant should probably be below the bottom of this pot – if they weren’t cut stems. It will look great in the garden – but it will never ever look like this.

This is a lovely plant, but can’t we just have a picture of it looking great in a border?

You can order plants of Geranium ‘Double Jewel’ from van Meuwen.

Misleading magnolia

MagnoliaTelegraph Magnolia sieboldii is a lovely shrub, or even a small tree. But don’t expect it ever to look like this – unless you cut the branches off your flowering tree and stuff them into a pot. As seen here. This is not a patio plant, it can be a 30ft+/10m+ tree!

What’s more, although it’s one of the magnolias which flowers when quite young – usually when about five or six years old – it never ever flowers at the size seen in this picture from Britain’s Daily Telegraph’s online garden shop.

Neverthless… Magnolia sieboldii is one of the finest of all magnolias, and fragrant too. Just be sure to plant it in moisture retentive, acid soil. And not in a patio pot!

Lighter-than-air terracotta pot

Buddleja 'Buzz Magenta' - bad Photoshop job. Image: ©Thompson & Morgan The good people at Thompson & Morgan in Britain recently sent me a press release about their new plant catalogue (launching in a couple of days). And full of exciting new varieties it is – 80 in all. And they also sent a picture of one of their splendid new buddlejas.

I wrote these up over on my RHS New Plants blog in June. I also discussed here the fact that their picture shows a collection of cut branches arranged in a terracotta pot – not a plant actually growing in a pot! But then when I saw the (very large) image they sent me this time I noticed something else – the pot is hovering in mid air! Hooray for Photoshop!

The trouble with all this is if they can’t just provide a picture of the plant growing in a pot and looking great – it makes people suspect that the plant is not as good as they say it is. T&M do a great job at their trials, demonstrating a vast range of container plants thriving in their containers. Can’t we see these buddlejas doing the same?

I’ve highlighted examples from other companies in the past. Anyone got any more?

Another ridiculous catalog picture

PrimulaVialii73930VM Yes, another one!

Primula vialii is one of the most universally admired perennials we grow. Or, more often than not, don’t manage to grow for very long! Many gardeners find it to be short lived, many plants producing one or two tall spikes and then fading away.

Primula guru John Richards says in his superb monograph, Primula, that the height of the flowering stems is about 2ft/60cm, with the flowering spike taking up about 8in/20cm of this – so there’s about 16in/40cm of bare stem between the rosette of foliage and the flower spike. And usually it produces just one or two spikes on each plant.

So bring on Van Meuwen! Over two dozen spikes sitting tightly on the rosette. And the color is pretty weird, too.

I would suggest that never in the vast history of life on earth, in the stars and in the galaxies beyond has a plant of Primula vialii flowered like this! But it’s certainly an accomplished piece of flower arranging.

PrimulavialiiTT Contrast that ridiculous image with this real-life image (click to enlarge) from the online catalog from Florida-based nursery Top Tropicals. Congratulations for using a realistic image.

You can order Primula vialii from Van Meuwen.

Other examples of ridiculous catalog(ue) pictures welcome.

And check out my earlier examples featuring ligularias and buddeljas.

Buddlejas not growing in patio pots

Buddleja 'Buzz Magenta', new from Thompson and Morgan. Image: ©Thompson & Morgan I’ve mentioned before here how some nurseries stage their plant pictures using cut material to try to make their new introductions look more impressive than they really are. Remember these ligularias?

Well here’s another example.

Over on my Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog I’ve just written up two new patio buddlejas created by Thompson & Morgan’s Charles Valin at their plant breeding operation in Britain. 'Buzz Magenta' and 'Buzz Lavender' have just been released to British gardeners and they sound very impressive.

Buddleja 'Buzz Lavender', new from Thompson and Morgan. Image: ©Thompson & Morgan But the pictures! These two new buddlejas are so dwarf that they’re ideal for growing in pots on the patio. So someone just went out and cut some branches from the plants, arranged them nicely in a pot and took their picture! And that’s exactly what it looks like. Click on the pictures to enlarge them and see what I mean.

If they grow so well in pots, can’t we have pictures showing them doing exactly that – growing in pots?

British gardeners can order the Buzz buddlejas from Thompson and Morgan. They're not yet avaiable in North America.

Jelitto - Worldwide (not just Transatlantic) seeds

Echinacea purpurea 'Lucky Star'. Image: Jelitto The Jelitto seed catalog is a marvel. A fat full color catalogue bursting with a vast total of three thousand, five hundred and seventy five (that's…3,575) perennials. Yes, just perennials (well, that includes over 200 herbs). Eighteen echinaceas, thirty two hardy geraniums, thirty four hellebores, seventy four different delphiniums and one hundred and ninety six grasses and sedges – the list goes on and on… In fact it goes on for two hundred and eight large format pages. Jelitto supply many of the nurseries from whom we all buy our plants and wised-up home gardeners order their perennial seeds from Jelitto as well.

Headquartered in Germany, Jelitto also has offices in Kentucky, where the super-efficient Mary Vaananen is in charge (her mail replies fly back in seconds)  alongside perennial expert Allen Bush (yes, he’s a perennial expert as well as an expert on perennials – old joke, sorry). In Cambridgeshire in England, plantsman Richard Oliver runs things and an office opened in Japan in 2007.

The incredible range is one attraction. But, unlike many seed companies, Jelitto also produce a large proportion of the seed they sell themselves, either on their own production fields or under contract in the right climates around the world and they’re able to keep a constant eye on the quality of the seed crop.Stachys macrantha 'Morning Blush'. Image: Jelitto

They also raise and introduce their own varieties like Iberis ‘Snow Cushion’, Knautia ‘Mars Midget’ and Chrysanthemum ‘Snowdrift’ and work with other breeders to introduce plants like Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ and ‘Doubledecker’, Salvia lyrata ‘Purple Knockout’ and the Lady Series of hellebores. Of their six new  introductions for this year, Echinacea purpurea ‘Lucky Star and the blushed white Stachys macrantha ‘Morning Blush’ look outstanding. Both are from their own breeding.

Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus Image: Jelitto OK… that all sounds like a bit of a eulogy – what are the problems? Well, some growers mention germination problems, almost always with the more obscure plants. The catalog features many plants which are unimproved wild species and sometimes germination can, indeed, be slow or unpredictable. It’s the nature of the beasts: these are not marigolds, after all. (Actually, they do sell one marigold… for the eradication of soil eelworms). Their alternative cultivar names are sometimes, shall we say, unexpected: Achillea filipendulina ‘Parkers Varietät’ is not the same as ‘Cloth of Gold’ – they’re two different plants.

Oh, and the website – it’s constructed in such a way that it’s impossible to bookmark individual varieties or for me to provide you with links to them. There’s a vast amount of good information there but, once you’ve found it, you can’t bookmark the page for next time. But they tell me that, as I write, a complete revamp is in progress.

There’s a minimum order charge of 25€/c$31, so you don’t want order just a couple of small packets. And you won’t get your order the day after you place it, each order is packed individually in Germany and sent (insured) from there. But they’ll sell you a 2€/c$2.55 packet for your home garden or they’ll sell you half a kilo to grow field full of cut flowers.

You probably already grow quite a few Jelitto plants, whether you know it or not. I suggest nurseries take another look at the vast Jelitto range and home gardeners try starting some from seed themselves. And if you've tried seed from Jelitto, please post a comment and tell me how you got on.

Transatlantic seeds

Thompson and Morgan is the only seed company with a significant presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Based in Suffolk in eastern England and in Jackson, New Jersey, T&M are known for their exciting new introductions, many bred at their own plant breeding station, and the sheer size of their full color catalogue. They publish separate catalogs amd websites for each market, one for the UK, one for North America.

This year, as usual, there are far too many newcomers to mention so let me just pick a five.

Antirrhinum ‘Bronze Dragon’
From T&M’s own breeding, when I saw this last year at the T&M headquarters I was impressed. Deepest bronze foliage is topped with delightful two-tone purple and white flowers on neat plants. Lovely for containers and the front of the border.
Order from T&M (UK)

Order from T&M (North America)

CosmosrosebobonTM330 Cosmos ‘Double Click Rose Bonbon’
Double cosmos are great cut flowers, and as it happens I was admiring a huge vase of ‘Double Click Mixed’ at my favourite British pub, The Kings Arms at Polebrook, in Northamptonshire, just a couple of weeks ago. They were still going strong at the end of September. Now this is the first separate colour, with delightfully fluffy double rose pink flowers on plants 2-3ft/60-90cm tall. I expect to see great billows of ‘Double Click Rose Bonbon’ in the pub restaurant next year.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

Nasturtium ‘Cobra’
A semi-trailing nasturtium with very dark blue-green foliage and deep red double flowers, ideal spilling out of baskets and as well-behaved ground cover. Another from T&M’s own breeding, it’s taken them ten years to build up enough seed to offer.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

RudbeckiaCherryBrandyTM-600 Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’
Developed by T&M, and fifteen years in the making, this is the first red rudbeckia and it looks spectacular. For more on this take a look at my New Plants blog.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

Tomato ‘Cherrola’
For UK customers only, I’m afraid, this was a star at last year’s Royal Horticultural Society trial of cherry tomatoes, for more on this check out my New Plants blog.
Order from T&M (UK)

If you prefer to look over the T&M print catalog, and it’s well worth a few hours winter fireside browsing, you can email a request for a copy of the UK catalogue here and order the North American catalog here.