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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 a...

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