You know how much I love local nurseries, but this time of year I also love the surprises in my mailbox each day.
January brings an avalanche of catalogs, and frankly, looking at their gorgeous flowers up close saves my life in the dormant season.
I might or might not order anything, depending on how steep the shipping charge is, but I'll gladly pay the price for any catalog I consider to be a good reference.
The color photography especially feeds my soul this time of year. That, and the excitement of new plants coming to market.
This spring's Plant Delights Nursery opus is titled Nationalized Plant Care, and features a caricature of Hillary Clinton as a plant doctor. Since 1998, covers designed by cartoonist Jack Pittman are zany commentaries on the state of our nation - cross-pollinated, of course, with plant concerns.
You can enjoy the catalog online (www.plantdelights.com) or request a hard copy to be sent by snail mail. The text is peppered with owner Tony Avent's quirky humor and a wealth of information about plants, old and new.
The 2008 catalog boasts eight new varieties of elephant ears (Colocasia), hybridized by Hawaii's Dr. John Cho.
Seven rare variegated agaves with exotic names like 'Opal' and 'Creme Brulee' will tempt you. Agaves, with their architectural shapes and bold thick leaves, have become increasingly popular in the past few years.
I can't wait to get my hands on 'Lajos' sedum, with cream-edged leaves, and some of the new epimediums, especially 'Myriad Years,' a purple-flowering cultivar first introduced by the legendary Heronswood Nursery.
Plant Delights is in Raleigh, N.C. Make it your business to visit if you're anywhere nearby. The demonstration gardens, garden art and family of cats are memorable.
If you're a tomato lover who's willing to grow plants from seed, check out Tomato Growers Supply Co. (www.tomatogrowers.com). A multitude of tomatoes are featured, with mouthwatering descriptions and photographs.
Early, midseason and late-season varieties are listed, along with endless specialties - beefsteak, paste, small-fruited, bicolor, black, green, orange and gold tomatoes.
Fifteen years ago I mailed $5 for White Flower Farm's catalog (www.whiteflowerfarm.com) and ever since have received the most beautiful booklets each spring and fall.
One October, when Fine Gardening magazine insisted I open my garden the following April, I desperately searched for tulip and daffodil bulbs for early color. Every bulb vendor was sold out, except for White Flower Farm. They shipped me 200 bulbs, and every single one flowered right in time for the open garden.
White Flower's spring 2008 catalog is packed with perennials, annuals and bulbs for summer color.
Shipping costs may make a mail-order purchase impractical, but the ideas you'll harvest from browsing through the catalog will make its cost worthwhile, especially the photographs of container plantings and illustrations of borders for shade and for deer resistance.
Even though they're clear over in Ohio, I have a soft spot for Bluestone Perennials (www.bluestoneperennials.com). When I was first designing perennial borders, I ordered plants from them that I couldn't find locally, and was thrilled to get perfect little perennials at a reasonable cost.
Now, even with so many nurseries closer to home, you might like to visit Bluestone's Web site and check out the specials, as well as helpful lists - plants that attract butterflies, plants for drought resistance, and plants introduced by Blooms of Bressingham, the English perennial connoisseurs.
I can't rave enough about Forestfarm's catalog (www.forestfarm.com), which is an excellent paperback reference that grows thicker each year. Nine pages of viburnums and 10 of hydrangeas give a hint of the abundant selections.
Many of the unusual trees and shrubs in my garden were born at Forestfarm and arrived in mint condition, shipped in deep tubes holding vigorously rooted plants. Located in Williams, not far from Ashland, it's open by appointment should you want to visit (1-541-846-7269).
I must mention Gossler Farms Nursery (www.gosslerfarms.com) to pay tribute to a small family nursery in Springfield that has brought gardeners a wealth of unusual, quality plants.
Roger Gossler, aka Mr. Magnolia, has educated many garden groups with enthusiastically narrated slide shows, and has graciously guided many groups through his handsome garden (by appointment, of course, 1-541-746-3922).
• Gardeners Galore, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, Clackamas Community College, Gregory Forum, 19600 S. Molalla Ave., Oregon City.
Karen Tillou-Grafting pre-sents 'Home Garden Pruning,' David Palmer speaks on 'Gardens I Have Known and Loved' and Andy Van Hevelingen talks about 'Favorite Herbs.'
Members of garden clubs and organizations will be on hand to answer questions. Fee is $7 at the door. To preregister or for information, call 503-657-6958, ext. 2246.