Garden Stories

Marking time with seed and plant catalogs

A beautiful spring day beneath the blossoming canopy of an aged cherry tree, a garden legacy from a previous generation.    Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

A beautiful spring day beneath the blossoming canopy of an aged cherry tree, a garden legacy from a previous generation. Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Most gardeners I know treat seed and nursery catalogs as seasonal wish books; fantasy reading for still chill nights when anything is possible: rain will fall, plants will flourish, and time—our biggest limitation of all—is but a fuzzy, and exceedingly optimistic, notion.

Dog-eared pages, highlighted varieties, and itemized lists hint at gardens of our imagination and heart more than the plots outside our backdoor; does anyone you know really need eight varieties of pole beans or have the luxury of growing a 1-gallon shade tree to maturity? Inspirational garden ephemera or evening fodder for our literal “day” dreams, seed and plant catalogs help pass the time until the season gets really and truly underway.

Months from now, chastened by our willing—or otherwise—collaboration with climate, pests, and reality, most of these catalogs will have been recycled, or shredded for the worm bin if we’re feeling ambitious and know the ink to be soy-based; like the accumulating stack of nursery pots or the mud I can’t help but track into the basement, just another layer of garden detritus.

And then, six to eight months later, the seasonal stanza repeats itself and a fresh crop of tantalizing catalogs begins to crowd our physical mailbox and digital inbox. Whether or not I ever get around to ordering beans, I find this cycle as comforting as this month’s lengthening days of spring.

1c040cd751fd0568b7bca691a17f1e5eLucky for gardeners everywhere, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) takes a much longer view. Garden Stories, a weeklong social media event for garden lovers, takes place March 23-27, 2015. Drawing from their Seed & Nursery Catalog Collection, the BHL campaign will “explore the fascinating world of gardening, from the rise of agriculture to the home garden and the mail order gardening phenomenon.”

Follow along on all the usual new media channels* for gardening tips, history, and “plant factoids” drawn from over 13,000 (you guessed it) seed and nursery catalogs. A body of work BHL characterizes as having been “originally published for the purposes of documenting trends, products, and expert advice related to botany, horticulture, and commercial agriculture.” And here I thought it was all about beans!

*Follow #BHLinbloom on the BHL Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, and Tumblr to join the fun!